Wenham Street Cinema’s next viewing will be indoors
By Eloise Lushina
Wenham Street in Jamaica Plain is much more than rows of historical houses. Instead, this block is an intertwined community where everyone in the neighborhood knows each other, thanks, in part, to one man: Matt Shuman.
Shuman, who is an instructional coach by day, is a movie theater host by night. He has turned his shared garage into a popular cinema for JP known affectionately as “Wenhem Street Cinema.”
“People just show up and sit down. Anyone can go,” said Sarah Buerman, a neighbor and landlord.
Many of his friends are guests and neighbors, but local politicos also show up too.
Shuman usually hosts movies and concerts shown outdoors during the summer, but now he is taking the shows indoors.
The next movie screening, ELF, will be shown at Boston’s Yocoya, a new homegoods store on Walkhill Street in JP instead of his garage. (The show begins at 6 p.m. Dec. 15).
“I really believe that being together with people that you’re likely to run into on the block strengthens communities,” said Shuman, who said he extended the movie-showing season to create space for more residents to connect and gather. “It really brings me a lot of joy.”
Shuman grew up in a small town called Groton, Massachusetts, and has been putting on different movie screenings since 2015.
“I thought it would be a fun way to gather with friends and neighbors,” Shuman said in a recent interview.
When the school Shuman previously worked at was throwing away old projectors, he seized the opportunity to take them for his garage movie screenings. With the help of a 4,000 foot ethernet cable, he was able to successfully project the images onto a screen in his garage and invited his neighbors to come join.
“I’ve experimented with a lot of different methods, and the setup has evolved over time,” Shuman said.
He’s purchased better screens, explored different Wifi set-ups, and has experimented with “luxury” movie theater seats, also known as camping chairs and old chairs from a school library.
“It brings me tremendous joy to bring people together,” Shuman said. “(The Cinema) is only valuable to do if people are enjoying it.”
And people are.
“I love meeting new people in the neighborhood and the spontaneity of the cinema. I feel so lucky I landed in utopia ,” said neighbor Madi Wachman. “The events add a rich fabric of social connection that are present even when there aren’t events.”
To cater to everyone on the block, Shuman makes sure to show films of all genres and is open to movie suggestions. Shuman said he has played kids movies (that his goddaughter picks out), noirs, horror films, movies in honor of Pride month and Juneteenth.
Faith Girdler, a retired teacher and neighbor, said she goes to all of the films even if she doesn’t particularly like them to greet her neighbors. “It was 100% my idea to show the film noir,” she said.
During the movies, Shuman provides popcorn to his guests while others bring items to share, like bottles of wine and pizza.
Shuman doesn’t take all of the credit for the cinema. Next-door neighbor Mike Kriley, a retired Delta flight attendant, helped repair Shuman’s garage throughout the entire cinema-building process.
Kriley also built a pub in his basement where neighbors could grab a beer to enjoy during the movie (or use the pub restroom). The two met in 2012, as Shuman would describe Kriley as “an older cousin.”
“This is the first time I lived somewhere where I could tell you who lives in all three units across the street from me, to the right and left of me, behind my yard,” Kriley said. “It really has changed our whole street.”
Another neighbor, Mathieu Hannouz, has lived on the street for almost 10 years but never knew his neighbors until Shuman moved in. After attending a cinema event, Hannouz started to meet the people living on his street.
“It has created a bond beyond our street,” Hannouz said. “Matt is an amazing person to start these events. He’s a go-getter.”
Not only has Shuman hosted movie events, but in the summertime, concerts, too. In 2020, Shuman met Chris Antonowich, who runs Light of Day Records in Medford and pitched the concert idea to Shuman.
“I hit Matt up about the concert idea during the pandemic when there was a shortage of things for folks to do,” Antonowich said. “Will Dailey was our first performer.” Nearly 250 people lined up and down the block to listen to the live music.
Shuman’s work for the neighborhood doesn’t go unrecognized.
“Matt’s engaging, genuine, and vivacious,” said Antonowich. “He’s got a good heart and I know he works hard to produce all of the movies.”
Shuman said he hopes to inspire others to find creative ways to build communities. “I’m just a guy with a garage putting on movies for fun,” he said.