New York-based film journalist, programmer and newbie video store owner Aaron Hillis, is nothing if not an underdog. "I have this bad habit of getting into failing industries," he told Filmmaker Magazine, shortly after purchasing the established Cobble Hill business Video Free Brooklyn. "I started in print journalism in 2002, got into DVD distribution with Andrew Grant in 2006, then theatrical exhibition in 2010 and here we go, I'm buying a video store in 2012."
If you've been following the indie film newswire for the past several weeks, chances are you've read something about the cinephile. Shortly before heading off to Cannes, Hillis attracted a good deal of attention for buying (with his wife Jennifer Loeber) the aforementioned video store from Dan Wu, the previous owner. His Indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000 to "overhaul and modernize" the shop made waves among cineastes, and even drew the attention of The Wall Street Journal. And just last week, Hillis was written about on this very site after announcing that he is stepping down as curator for the reRun Gastropub Theater in Dumbo, Brooklyn, where he's been curating since the venue's launch in 2010. During his time there, his programs have mainly comprised of microbudget features from the festival circuit.
"It's not like I set out with any of these things thinking, 'Well gee, that's a fading industry. I should probably get in there and see if I can prop up the ceiling before it caves in,'" Hillis told Indiewire over the phone from manning the counter at Video Free Brooklyn. "I think it's more that opportunities have arisen that have made sense with this weird career path, this weird career trajectory that I've had."
That "weird" path has included a career as a film journalist and critic. He currently serves as the editor of the film blog GreenCine Daily, and has reviewed films for The Village Voice and myriad of other publications. Hillis also helped co-found Benten Films, a DVD label devoted to independent film.
"There have been ways for me to actually make a professional living out of, you know, my passions," he said.
He credits his passion for independent film to the fact that the "movies don't have to play into formulas." "They can be something much stranger and richer and speak to me in different ways," he added. "I started noticing that all the studio movies I loved when I was growing up were just kind of limited in how I could interact with them."
As for his latest venture, Hillis told Indiewire it's already improved since he came on board. "I'm already seeing it working and I'm talking to so many caring and excited people in the neighborhood who were feeling strong reactions to Netflix and some of the delivery systems that are out there," he said. "They wanted something that has immediacy. If anything ever happens, I can do the same thing the previous owner was going to do originally, which was to liquidate the stock."
And despite his new full-time gig, don't rule Hillis out from taking on programming duties elsewhere. "If I decide to do any more programming, permanently or full-time somewhere, the fall would be the very soonest I'd start sniffing around for a new venue."
"I think that's like asking who your favorite family member is. No one should know that. That said, I used to say for years, whenever people asked me that, 'Wings of Desire.' I feel that is one film that has infinite watchability with me. In my adult life I have seen 'Wings of Desire' more than any other film. In my entire life since childhood, I have seen 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure' more than any other film. If you ask me on any given day I'd have a laundry list of movies I could never live without. I think always on that list would be 'Once Upon A Time In The West,' Jacques Tati's 'Play Time,' and Godard's 'Contempt.'"
Last Film He Saw:
"'And Everything Is Going Fine,' the Steven Soderbergh documentary about Spalding Grey using only clips and the work of Spalding Grey."
Favorite Audio Commentary:
"I'm quite partial to the Carrot Top audio commentary on the 'Rules of Attraction' DVD, in which he sat down for the very first time to watch it and did the commentary live. I also like that Crispin Glover shows up on at least two Werner Herzog DVD commentaries I know of."