Former director and founder of Speakeasy Cinema, Ghita Loebenstein has worked as a film journalist and in various roles at film festivals such as MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival), where she developed its successful Critics Campus program.

With more than two decades’ experience under her belt, Loebenstein has recently stepped into a new role as head of cinemas at ACMI where she’ll lead the museum’s screenings and events program.

When Broadsheet reached out, we asked Loebenstein which movies from 2021 stood out to her most. She said Nitram by Australian director Justin Kurzel. “Any cinema release in 2021 is exciting in and of itself,” she tells us. “But Justin Kurzel’s Nitram was very impressive, and probably not what you think it’s about.” She also mentions Mia Hansen-Love’s Bergman Island – “I love her films” – and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.

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The 42-year-old is a kid of the ’90s, so naturally she has a go-to guilty pleasure flick. Hers is the 1991 romcom LA Story. “With its knockout, but very white, cast – Steve Martin, SJP [Sarah Jessica Parker], John Lithgow, Woody Harrelson – [it] has made me lol many times, and its social critique is still sharp 30 years on,” she says.

Loebenstein joins ACMI from The Capitol theatre, having led its relaunch after a $20 million redevelopment by RMIT. Her role at ACMI was created following the departure of former director of film programs, Kristy Matheson, who is now at Scotland’s Centre for the Moving Image.

“We are delighted to welcome Ghita to the ACMI family,” said Acmi director and CEO Katrina Sedgwick OAM at the time of her appointment. “Her creativity and experience in building inspired, engaged communities is a tremendous asset. I look forward to seeing her steer ACMI’s cinema program in new and exciting directions.”

We asked Loebenstein more about the role and what we can expect over the next 12 months.

What’s your new job title?
Head of cinemas. I steer our programming calendar in an overall sense, scope out new and existing film and TV programming partnerships, as well as manage those. And I work with my fantastic film programs team to bring it all to life. That means we get to think about, watch and program the films we think speak to the world we’re living in today, and get curious about, or celebrate, significant or unusual works from the past. Sometimes I get to watch a film too!

Why did you choose to make the move to ACMI?
It was so fortuitous to join this organisation at such a pivotal time, right after its renewal project and just as (hopefully Melbourne’s last) lockdown was unlocked. For anyone growing up in Australia loving cinema, and anyone working in this industry, ACMI is it: our haus of moving images. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to take over the reins of the cinemas and explore how film, TV and all things cinematic posits itself in this new world.

Do you have any fun plans or ideas for your new role?
I think people are really craving connection and community, and cinema is certainly purpose-built for that, so I’ll be exploring how we expand, deepen and stretch those opportunities in new ways and continuing to extend what ACMI has always done, which is inviting people to come together to be curious about what filmmakers and image-makers around the world are expressing.

We’ve just announced our summer program, which has so much I could list off. There’s a special Music on Film program for Melbourne Music Week, our Hong Kong New Talents spotlight, [and] some cheeky sessions of Jodorowsky’s Dune for those who’ve seen the new Denis Villeneuve feature and want a left-field skew.

There’s a whole new festival on design from the Milano Design Film Festival, a season on the films of Iranian new wave master Abbas Kiarostami, a mini focus on Australian neo-noir, excellently titled Yeah, Noir, and a really great spotlight on Mark Cousins’s new documentary The Story of Film: A New Generation – an addendum to his 15-hour documentary about the history of cinema, which catches us up to today. We’re screening a lot of the films in Cousins’s doco in the ancillary program too, and there are loads of great titles in there that people may have missed over the last few years.

Will you be implementing any big changes?
I’m looking forward to introducing some more cinema events that encourage conversation or bring in other live elements, and we’ll have the opportunity to flex that muscle from autumn 2022. We’ll be announcing more early next year.