"Our projectionist came up with the name," says Siloën Daley, founder and director of Carbon Arc. "A carbon arc is a kind of projector that used carbon rods instead of lamps. They were really cheap and would take 20 minutes to burn out, so you'd have to buy a whole lot of them. It was a more cost-effective alternative for smaller mom-and-pop cinemas."
Like its namesake, Carbon Arc is small-scale effort that provides moviegoers with an alternative to the mainstream. With tickets at a bargain price of $6, the venue offers a line-up inspired by the kind of films---offbeat, independent, and Canadian-minded--- Daley encountered through her work as a projectionist and technical representative at the Toronto International Film Festival and Toronto's Hot Docs festival.
Establishing an independent cinema in Halifax was a "long process" that began after the closing of Halifax's Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Cinema in 1998. "I really saw a need for a venue," Daley says. "I wanted to bring together all the screenings that were happening throughout cinema that were struggling to get an audience. I wanted to create a home for all of those." A filmmaker herself, Daley had completed what she calls her "last big 16mm project" and was touring it around North America when she realized "Halifax could support something like these great places I've been visiting."
Carbon Arc's programming began in the summer of 2010 with nine screenings in an empty room in the Khyber. "The Khyber is where Wormwood's originally opened," Daley says, "and it had a great room. The third floor has these really high ceilings and a really big open space and it wasn't being used." After taking advantage of the location in 2010 and 2011, the idea of spending a third year at the Khyber was rejected after the city's plans to install an elevator in the building took longer than anticipated.
"We moved because we wanted to make it wheelchair-accessible," Daley says. She and her partners found an ideal venue in the city's Museum of Natural History. "The museum liked the idea of having us in their space and they are wheelchair-accessible."
Carbon Arc's schedule has since increased to twice-a-week screenings eight months out of the year, offering films "that definitely aren't screening or getting a run in Halifax." Carbon Arc also offers a number of services for "niche groups, like Hal-Con, and different community groups. Instead of renting a room at Empire, we can provide them with a smaller venue that's more suitable."
While Daley makes a conscious effort to promote Canadian independent film, "we also like to support international works that maybe aren't getting the attention they deserve." On Saturday, Carbon Arc will be celebrating International Animation Day with the Animation With Love Festival, beginning at 10am with youth-oriented animation, a 3pm panel with the National Film Board's new head of animation, Roddy McManus, and animated shorts at 5:30pm and 7pm.
On Halloween, Carbon Arc will be showing We Are Legion: The Story of the Hackivists, a story on activist group Anonymous, and the upcoming November schedule will have films hosted by local filmmakers Darrell Varga, Jason Eisener and John Walker.
For now, Carbon Arc is a volunteer-run organization, but Daley hopes it will eventually become successful enough for that to change.
"I'd like to create some jobs in the community," she says. "We love our volunteers and our audience. You don't have to be a filmmaker, you don't have to feel like you belong to a particular group. It's a great place to meet people, but you can also go and be anonymous. It's casual and welcoming."
Carbon Arc Wednesdays and Saturdays at 7pm Museum of Natural History, 1747 Summer Street carbonarc.ca