Tiny, volunteer-run Stray Cat Film Center is screening stuff no other theater in town will

Photography by Kayla Masisak

It’s a Thursday night, and seventies electro-funk is thumping through the lobby of Stray Cat Film Center in the Crossroads. The lobby of this microcinema is styled like the Forman family den, with a Pam Grier poster on the wall and a yellow and orange floral print sofa facing a constellation of artfully arranged tube TVs.

The crowd that filters in is here to see a screening of Judex, a 1962 French crime caper about a vengeful magician who plots the destruction of a scamming banker. It’s an obscure black and white movie with subtitles—not the type of thing that would be programmed even at a place like Screenland Armour. 

“We want to provide a space that can show films that otherwise would not get shown in Kansas City and celebrate those different forms of cinematic expression that are less populous and more unique,” says Andrew Linn, one of the eight collaborators who run Stray Cat. “When you open yourself to a new movie experience, so many things open up just in how you view the world.”

Stray Cat is a single-screen nonprofit cinema that’s run by volunteers who not only take tickets and start the projector but also plan the programming. It opened in its current spot on Broadway, across from the Kauffman Center and next to DIY co-op venue Deep Space, in 2019. Stray Cat grew out of a project called The Cannonball Roarers Screening Collective, which was run by artists Matthew Lloyd and Jaclyn Danger, who have been showing oddball cinema in the city for nearly a decade through their Psychotronic Film Series.

The project lost some momentum in March 2020.

“We’ve been around for a while,” Linn says. “But for some reason, we were closed for a year—I don’t really remember why.”

Stray Cat reopened in July 2021 and has hosted about twenty showings per month since. 

Those mostly come in themed series like Sapphic cinema, which focuses on queer representation, and Linn’s “Bargain Bin Film School,” which focuses on the classics of world cinema, like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a 1964 French musical that was nominated for five Oscars. There’s also a 16 mm showcase that shows movies on film—the only exhibitions of actual film in KC at the moment.

Some of that information is online via Facebook or Eventbrite, but the most complete information is actually on old-school printed fliers. (“I love them,” Danger says of fliers. “You used to see them everywhere for weird-ass shit, and I’d be like, ‘Hell yeah!’ But it seems like everything’s online now.”)

In an age of universal availability and Netflix binge-watching, celebrating the communal experience of the cinema is part of Stray Cat’s purpose. And though the small screening space with digital projection and surround sound is nothing fancy, it’s still a much richer experience than almost any home setup.

“When a film is viewed on a laptop, you are still taking in other information from wherever you’re at,” Linn says. “It’s just not as immersive.”

Linn, who is a librarian by day and working to get his masters degree in library sciences at Emporia State University, has focused on showing films that otherwise would never be screened in KC, including snippets of RuPaul’s debut on New York public access TV  and a recent multi-day engagement of the Iranian film The Chess Game of the Wind, which had been lost after the country’s Islamic Revolution. Chess was discovered by chance in a junk shop and restored in 2020, becoming a sensation among cinephiles around the world.

Among Linn’s dream screenings is Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, which is infamous for its shocking final scene.

“That’s on my shortlist, for sure,” he says. “Finding a print to do a restoration has been really difficult. But it’s a classic of arthouse cinema of that late-eighties era, with Helen Miran. It’s just leaning into that aesthetic really hard. Great film.”  

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