Director starts free website to stream orphan movies


NEW YORK • Nicolas Winding Refn has a soft touch for orphans - orphan movies, to be exact.

Not content to be known as the director of the Ryan Gosling-starring Drive (2011) and The Neon Demon (2016) that premiered in Cannes, he has quietly started a side career as a collector, preservationist and streaming service provider.

He estimates his library has grown to more than 200 titles.

They include orphan films by one-time directors; movies that never showed beyond regional drive-ins; and Shanty Tramp, a 1967 exploitation picture that Refn calls "the ultimate political film".

And he is paying to restore them.

Starting last week, they began streaming free on, a website he called an "unadulterated expressway for the arts".

It will also feature guest curators, historical articles tethered to the movies and videos of music performances.

Three films - The Nest Of The Cuckoo Birds (1965), Shanty Tramp and Hot Thrills And Warm Chills (1967) are now online, with three new ones added each quarter.

Here are excerpts of a conversation with the Copenhagen-based director, 47.

A lot of these movies never showed widely. The Nest Of The Cuckoo Birds, directed by Florida-based character actor Bert Williams, was barely distributed. Ron Ormond's The Burning Hell (1974) played only on the evangelical circuit. And now they will be streaming worldwide.

Creativity is so little about success in reality. The need to express is a human instinct. Nowadays, there are so many interesting people creating whatever they want, anywhere around the world.

A lot of what I am interested in is the idea that we have always had that desire.

What was the organising principle, both for your collection and this project?

I collect a lot of things in my life. I just happened to start collecting this. We are living in a world where entertainment is obviously becoming free.

A lot of the films (had) maybe just two prints existing - once they were gone, there would be nothing. All the hard work in making a film, and then they would be lost, which would be really sad.

It sounds like some films were personal to you. In other cases, you were just grabbing what you could get.

A couple of films I watched and really enjoyed. A lot of them I have not seen yet, but I love the idea of them, and when I heard about the people behind the films, I was fascinated.

There was a director out of Texas, Dale Berry, who made four films, I believe (including Hot Thrills And Warm Chills) - I own all of them.

His films were more like personal extensions of whatever was going on inside his mind, mixed with the counterculture and the sexual revolution, and then at the same time a highly conservative religious control. I ended up buying all his clothes also.

Of the ones you have seen, what would you recommend?

Spring Night, Summer Night (1967) is very, very, very, very good.

And that was a strange case: It was made in a very regional area (south-eastern Ohio) by a film-maker who made only one movie.

And the film had been purchased by a producer who had recut the film into more like an exploitation title called Miss Jessica Is Pregnant.

I (also) love these Ron Ormond religious propaganda films, especially because of the current climate of America.

When you wrote about the site in The Guardian earlier this month, you began by talking about the Trump administration, calling the current political moment "terrifying" but "also thrilling". People thought you were trolling to advertise your website.

It is a beautiful reaction because the idea of it - how people would react to it - is inspiring.

It just shows you how charged our times are, and just the paranoia that runs in circles around everyone. is free. I am not asking for anything.

There is no catch.

You are just going to haemorrhage money keeping this project afloat personally?

When film was invented, it was an experiment that then became mass media - that then became a product. We have to invent it (the project) before we can figure out how to monetise it. Otherwise, you are just basically circling in the same old system that is dying a very fast death.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2018, with the headline 'Director starts free website to stream orphan movies'. Subscribe