People of Winston: Lawren Desai

by Alison Shermeta
Get to know Lawren Desai, the visionary who began a/perture cinema and has put film front and center in Winston-Salem.
Lawren Desai at a/perture

This week I got to take a tour of a/perture, the independent cinema that Winston-Salem native Lawren Desai dreamed up and opened downtown in 2010. I’ve been there many times for movie nights and Riverrun, but I never paid attention to the architectural detail of the building during daylight, inside and out. And the care Lawren has put into creating the perfect movie-viewing space, like the movie theater chairs she and her mom drove miles and miles away to buy from a closing auction and gave new life in her theater, how the tall walls are lined with images made by local artists, and all of the signage that is (so beautifully) handwritten. All of this design and detail reminds me how community-driven this art house cinema is. It’s a really special place to escape to and watch a story. 

‚ÄčEvery movie feels that way, like a getaway from my life into someone else’s. Lawren handpicks every movie that plays at a/perture, often showcasing art films from other cultures on her theater’s screens on Fourth Street. It’s her love of travel seeping through all she does — there are stories to be told everywhere, and it connects us, making the world feel a little smaller. a/perture’s own story changed early last year, when the theater had to close its doors during the pandemic. Lawren and her team got creative and shifted to online movie rentals, curbside concessions, and drive-ins, and in Mid-May, a/perture reopened at 50% capacity. I love these words I found on her website, “2020: you stayed home and we brought you the world.”

As we walked outside to say goodbye, Lawren pointed up to a bird feeder tucked away just above a/perture’s awning, a little bird tail peeping out. Someone has put it there and is tending it, she said, but who? There’s probably a good story there.

June 24, 2021

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