Amherst Cinema names new executive director 

  • Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer, a resident of Amherst with a background in film distribution and education technology, has been appointed executive director of the cinema. AMHERST CINEMA

  • Yasmin Chin Esienhauer is the new executive director of the Amherst Cinema. PHOTO BY ALEX HORNBECK/COURTESY OFAMHERST CINEMA

Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2021

AMHERST — After a search that generated resumes from across the country, the Amherst Cinema has filled its executive director position with someone right in town — and a member of the independent movie house to boot.

Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer, until recently the associate director of a Smith College department that oversees the use and planning of technology for learning at the school, has been tapped to replace Carol M. Johnson, who retired last May as director after 13 years leading the independent movie house.

Eisenhauer, a film buff and an Amherst Cinema member who went there regularly before the pandemic hit, says she’s thrilled to become part of what she calls “one of my favorite spots in town” and a cornerstone of Amherst’s arts community.

“I’ve had so many good experiences there, so now to be part of the organization is really exciting,” said Eisenhauer, who has a background in film distribution and film festival organizing in addition to her work in technology and media education at Smith, where she just ended a 7½-year stint.

Amherst Cinema staff say they’re equally excited to bring her aboard, calling her a “visionary and inclusive leader with a background in innovative programming, impactful learning experiences, and emerging technologies.”

“It’s amazing that we were able to find such a wonderful candidate right here in town, someone who’s really well versed in film distribution and also in strategic planning,” said Rachel Hart, the cinema’s outreach director. “And Yasmin really understands our role here in the community, what our connection is to our membership and to other arts organizations … she understands what we are all about.”

Holly Greeley, the cinema’s longtime business manager, said the movie house received over 50 applications for the executive director job from all over the country. And though some of those applicants may have been simply “showcasing their resumes,” Greeley noted, there were many excellent candidates, “so it’s really nice to find someone so qualified right in our own backyard.”

Eisenhauer, a Smith College graduate who earned a master’s degree in educational communications and technology from New York University, has been part of what’s known as the Learning, Research and Technology (LRT) team at Smith and has worked in educational technology and media for over 20 years.

While she was at NYU in the late 1990s, she noted, she became intrigued with independent film, interning and then working with an organization called ABFF Ventures, a New York-based entertainment company focusing on African American culture and cinema. While there, she created BlackFilmFestAMERICA, a multi-city Black independent film festival.

“I became really interested in building an audience for films that had alternative narratives and focus, stories that were outside a lot of the mainstream (film) industry,” she said.

She didn’t learn of the opening for the director’s position at Amherst Cinema until the search had been underway a few months. And though she had some concerns about applying for a job at an arts institution, given how the pandemic has devastated many such organizations, Eisenhauer also said her own “market research” about the cinema convinced her it was a well-supported organization, one offering unique content, that could weather the storm.

Aside from featuring independent movies, Amherst Cinema has long staged special programming such as high-definition films of theater, music and dance productions; themed film festivals; and documentaries introduced by directors and other in-person speakers.

There’s also the long-running “See-Hear-Feel-Film,” an arts program for third-grade students in which schoolchildren come to the movie house to view short films, from all over the world, to learn how movies can tell stories and what tools filmmakers use to do that.

To help generate income, the movie house has been streaming films from its website since last March, and it has also made its largest theater available for private rental.

Eisenhauer said those services are continuing, and she argues that the streaming content available from the cinema can stand on its own in competition with commercial services like Netflix. That said, she and other Amherst Cinema staff say they plan to make “innovation, creativity, and inclusion” a priority for 2021 as the organization looks beyond the pandemic.

And when the cinema can reopen its doors — and when people feel safe to come back — Eisenhauer said they want to welcome audiences back in style. “I’m looking to throw a red carpet party,” she said with a laugh.