Cindependent’s “Reels on Wheels” Is a Pandemic-Friendly Cinematic Escape

If the audience can’t come to the movies, Allyson West brings the movies to the audience.

Photograph courtesy of Cindependent Film Festival

We could all use a little bit of magic right now. Fortunately, Cindependent Film Festival’s “Reels on Wheels” is here to provide. The mobile cinema, housed in the back of a decked out utility trailer, is bringing film to neighborhoods across the city. Allyson West, Cindependent’s founder, has manifested a fantastical, low-risk way to bring the screen to Cincinnatians—and, more importantly, to bring Cincinnatians together.

The pandemic changed West’s life from all sides at once. Over the course of a few short weeks, she lost her job, put her podcast on hiatus, and postponed the film festival she’d spent the last several years creating. On top of everything else, she was five weeks postpartum, juggling a newborn and an almost-2-year-old. Times were rough.

Photograph courtesy of Cindependent Film Festival

Photograph courtesy of Cindependent Film Festival

When a friend sent a care package filled with provisions and favorite things, inspiration struck. “I felt so cared for,” she says, “and I wanted to bring that feeling to the community.”

West is a textbook doer, so it was only a matter of time before inspiration became inception. It was no easy feat—she didn’t have the technical knowledge she needed to make it happen. West, however, has never backed down from a challenge. She built a custom rear-projection screen, housed it in the back of a trailer, and decked that trailer out with an Art Deco design, gold velvet curtains, and a light-up marquee.

“I loved seeing it come together,” West says. “It’s like this traveling carnival attraction.” In the spirit of creating escape, West paired the open-air theater with a program designed to whisk viewers away.

“The human spirit needs community,” she says. To that end, she’s gone out of her way to include films that elicit a gasp, a sigh, or a laugh from the audience. That connection—not just the act of enjoying art, but enjoying it with others—is, for West, the project’s most meaningful offering. “It’s so good to experience group laughter again,” she says.

Photograph courtesy of Cindependent Film Festival

The mobile cinema is designed with safety in mind. Viewers reserve a space early in the week via Cindependent’s website. West and a volunteer set the cinema up, sanitizing as they go. Guests bring chairs and blankets, and are seated in their own socially-distant zone. Seating is limited, but walk-ups are welcome, provided there’s room.

West, who guesses she’s seen the 40-minute program a dozen times by now, enjoys the people watching most. Couples hold hands, kids dance to the music, and the human spirit West hoped to unleash bursts out in droves.

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