People of Prominence – Lawren Desai of a/perture cinema

“For me, the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake.” – Alfred Hitchcock

To listen to the artistic and creative voices of our time is to hear those who have relevant visions for a community. The people who have created things on a canvas or opened their doors for us to view art of all kinds are the cultural heroes. The supersonic pace we maintain will often twirl us so fast that we forget to decelerate and absorb a great piece of music or a film. I arrived at a/perture cinema in downtown Winston-Salem (305 W. 4th Street) to talk to Lawren Desai who runs the cinema right in the solar plexus of our fair city. Her welcoming doors are flung open to welcome those who are ready to be swept away into a story and sink into a respite from the flurry of the everyday.

                                                             LAWREN DESAI
Where are you from?

Right here in Winston-Salem! I went to RJR High School. To be honest, I could not wait to get out of here. I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania. I finished my undergraduate degree and began to calculate what was next – if it didn’t involve returning to my hometown. I wanted to travel and venture out. Ultimately, I moved to Los Angeles, thinking I could get my start in the film industry, and even to New York. I was in New York during 9/11. I couldn’t seem to find a job there that satisfied me, and it was just a tough place to thrive. Lo and behold, I moved back to Winston-Salem to pursue my MBA degree at Wake Forest University!

What was the genesis of your appreciation for film?

I always had an interest in films. When I moved to LA, I signed on for classes and workshops pertaining to directing. I was on the verge of going to film school at USC (University of Southern California). I have always maintained a love of great art-house films. My favorite film, Amelie, is a French-language film that I first saw at Angelika Film Center in New York. I ventured out and saw it just after 9/11. It was just such a special experience and has stuck with me all these years.

Detail what made you think an independent cinema was needed in Winston-Salem.

Back when I first had the idea around 2007-2008, Films on Fourth was a popular event. It brought people out to watch movies at the Stevens Center here on 4th Street. I gave birth to my son in 2007 and, while enjoying the role of “Mom,” I was going a little stir crazy. I honestly felt that a cinema right in the heart of downtown could work. I wanted to bring it forth for the public at-large, but frankly, I wanted selfishly to see a cinema of this kind come to life here. I wanted it to be a place where independent films, mainstream films and thought-provoking documentaries were featured.   

What do you want the public to know about a/perture?

That we want you to come and disengage for a couple of hours. We understand that people are busy, but I truly believe that after people experience a/perture for the first time, they will return. It can be said that going to the movies at a cinema like ours is a democratic experience indulging in art. I mean to say that everyone is there to experience the movie, and no one knows the backstory of the fellow patrons. It’s a diverse experience where people from all walks of life are just there to be swept into a story. The city has all these brand new residential buildings, and I want all the residents of our great city to know that we are a theater right here in the heart of downtown.

As an entrepreneur, what scares you and what excites you?

What scares me? This business certainly has its abundant uncertainties compared to what we started in 2010. The pandemic showed us how fragile things can be. We contend with the fact that people have lots of choices for their entertainment. Streaming services are great but also present challenges for us. 

What excites me is that I get to screen great movies! I get excited by the word of mouth that gets generated about a great film and that a/perture is the perfect place to escape to and watch it.

Who would you nominate for the next People of Prominence interview?

Toni Tronu from Visual Index on Trade Street. She reminds me of myself. She doesn’t want to wait for something to take shape; she wants to create it. She has been instrumental as a leader in the arts here in Winston-Salem.

a/perture cinema 

311 W. 4th Street, Winston-Salem



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