Audience still paramount when film programmer makes list
Jesse Trussell's favorite films are French or German and from the 1960s or 1970s.
Jesse Trussell once spent spring eagerly anticipating the day when the Paramount Theatre would announce its annual Summer Classics Film Series. When he finally got his hands on the schedule, he would grab a pen, comb the list and circle the films he wanted to see. Now, he makes the list.
It seems fitting that the film programmer for one of Austin's oldest cultural institutions would choose to meet at fellow Congress Avenue icon Little City on the beloved coffee shop's penultimate day. His iced coffee sits relatively ignored as the 27 year-old discusses his love of film and details his plans for the theatre's 36th annual summer series.
The self-described film nerd, who now works in a building that could in its balcony hold the entire population of his hometown of Mount Calm says he feels honored to have been given the responsibility for the 80-film summer series but recognizes the burden inherent in having control of the program.
"I definitely feel the responsibility to the community because it's such a big series. Once I got this job it was really a dream because it was a tradition I had always been so proud of and now to have my own work be a part of it was very exciting," Trussell said. "I distinctly remember when the list would come out thinking, 'Oh, I wish they would play X,Y and Z.' And now I have those reins, and so I know there is someone else out there saying, 'Oh! Why didn't Jesse play X, Y and Z?'"
Growing up in the small Central Texas town of about 300 residents, Trussell relied on his movie-loving parents and the Blockbuster video store in Waco for his formative education in film before heading to the University of Texas in 2002 to study in the Radio, Television and Film Department. During the spring semester of his freshman year, Trussell attended the South by Southwest film festival and fell in love with the historic theatre that he now calls his office.
Trussell says he most loves the French and German New Waves of the '60s and '70s but understands that if he programmed 80 films that he simply liked personally, he might end up spending a good deal of time alone in the theatre watching director Jean-Luc Godard's esoteric video works.
"Programming is not about personal tastes, although that's an aspect of it, certainly. Film knowledge and taste goes into it. But it's also about understanding your audience and what you're trying to serve," Trussell said. "There's an important balance between wanting to push the boundaries of the tastes of the audience ... and one of the things I'm trying to at the Paramount is expand some of the scope of what's considered the classic film and sort of help to reevaluate certain films and filmmakers and put them in new contexts."
Audiences can still rely on series staples such as "Casablanca" and "Gone With the Wind," but Trussell wanted to introduce slightly more obscure films and filmmakers. For fear of alienating audiences, he says he will package lesser-known titles with more popular works and group the movies by theme. This method will allow audiences the chance to see a more familiar title like "Bonnie and Clyde" while likely being introduced to a new film, in this case Nicholas Ray's "They Live by Night." Another Ray movie, the female-driven Western "Johnny Guitar" starring Joan Crawford, will be paired with "Destry Rides Again," which stars Marlene Dietrich and Jimmy Stewart.
Trussell, who says he views programming as a kind of art form, plans to introduce each of the movies screened during the summer series and says he welcomes the opportunity to get feedback from Paramount patrons and answer any questions they might have about the reasoning behind his choices.
Though his job title reads programmer, the enthusiastic Trussell could easily fill in for anyone in the marketing department should they get a cold.
"I want to make sure we're a place where film buffs and filmmakers can come and really appreciate this great work," Trussell said. "If you haven't seen these classic movies, or only seen them on your television, seeing them on one of Austin's biggest movie screens is a really special and intrinsically different experience."