Video Store Spotlight: A Q&A with CineFile Video (Los Angeles, CA)
Updated: May 13
Interview by Eddie Gurrola
Photos by Lee Roderick
Home Video has been there for us in a way we've never needed it before over the past year. In celebration of the format, we've reached out to the folks that own and operate some of the baddest video stores in America to hear about how they got started, where their passion comes from, and how they've adapted to new customer needs during the pandemic.
Sebastian Mathews, owner of CineFile Video in West LA, joined us for a Q&A, which we're excited to share below.
Cinematic Void: You took over the store in 2013, long after video stores became more of a "niche" business. What made you decide to dive in at that time?
Sebastian Mathews: In 2013, my record shop Touch Vinyl was just one year old, and the news of CineFile closing was too much to bear! It would have left a devastating gap in a block that was also home to two bookstores and the Nuart.
Even though I knew CineFile was losing money at the time, I was determined to revitalize the business and see just how much a library of 40,000 great films was worth to a city of film lovers. Seven years later, we are doing well enough to support 5 employees and over 1,000 loyal members! We are proud to be a part of LA’s cultural landscape.
CineFile Video owner Sebastian Mathews with part of his collection.
When folks come in to CineFile Video, what do you hope they get out of the experience?
When people find us in West LA, I hope they are struck by just how special our collection is. Whether you are a mainstream or indie movie lover, there are more titles lovingly organized here than you could ever imagine finding yourself online. I hope that our members get recommendations from our super knowledgeable staff that make them come back for more.
If we walked in right now, what would be a few recent restoration or recent release titles you’d recommend to us that we might have passed over on our own?
One of our super knowledgable staff members, JP Douglas, said his faves this year were Studiocanal's ROAD TO SALINA (Editor's Note: Region-B locked, but a Region-A-friendly edition is coming from Kino Lorber this summer), Vinegar Syndrome's THE CANDY SNATCHERS, and Warner Archive's PUMP UP THE VOLUME. New releases I dug were Miranda July's KAJILLIONAIRE and Adam Curtis' CAN'T GET YOU OUT OF MY HEAD.
Also check out CV's Video Store Spotlights with... Beyond Video (Baltimore), Videodrome (Atlanta), Scarecrow Video (Seattle)
Have you gotten any good recommendations from customers lately that worked out well for you and the rest of the staff?
Some great customer recommendations we received recently were MIKE'S MURDER, BARBARIANS AT THE GATE, HELLAWARE, and THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD. We learn as much from the cinephiles that visit as they do from us!
What have you noticed about customer watching habits since the pandemic started? With theaters gone, we, personally, have been appreciating home video in a way we never have before...
Many people found time to declutter during the pandemic which meant many, many collections of DVDs and Blu-rays being sold or donated to us over the past year. This meant we were able to replace scratched discs, and offer tons of titles for sale in-store and online. We are always in the mood to buy and sell DVD, Blu-ray, vinyl, VHS and vintage posters. (Editor's note: You can sell your stuff to CineFile online here.)
Final question: what’s one movie you’ve always wanted to see, and never got around to watching, that you’ve finally watched during the pandemic...
I had been putting off Creating Woodstock, which is a documentary about the talented and tenacious guys who raised the money and produced the Woodstock music festival. It’s amazing to see what is possible through perseverance and good vibes. Seeing that documentary as a business owner was inspiring, and it gave me hope for the future of shops like ours in the post-pandemic world!
Be sure to check out CineFile in person next time you're looking to rent a video, and, better yet, you can also become a member here. To connect with the store, no matter where you are, here's their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.