Cinema for Everyone: How Melissa Lyde Brings BIPOC Communities Together through Film

Dec 27, 2023

Film has been a lifelong passion for Melissa Lyde, allowing her to experience different worlds without leaving Brooklyn. While working in the film industry, Melissa witnessed the obstacles diverse filmmakers experienced in sharing their stories. She started Alfreda’s Cinema to create a community space that brings filmmakers and film lovers together through BIPOC cinema. 

Melissa, tell us about your passion. 

I'm passionate about sharing BIPOC films that instill a sense of integrity and create a community where audiences across all walks of life, filmmakers, and cinephiles feel engaged to experience the world beyond their surroundings. 

How did you discover your passion, and how long have you been practicing it? Was there a big "aha moment" or did you realize it more slowly?

I did have a eureka moment when I realized my purpose, but it certainly occurred through trial and error, challenges I faced growing up and working in New York's film industry. I hit a point of disenfranchisement from the production industry and asked myself what I loved most. It's watching films. I knew the experience wasn't accessible to wider and more diverse audiences, and discrimination was rampant.

It was immediately clear to me to create an environment for BIPOC filmmakers to thrive and share our stories with our community. 

What was happening in your life when you began to discover this passion? (For example, did this passion help you through a tough period, were you going through a major life change?)

Watching films was something I enjoyed with my father growing up. I didn't enjoy watching old Hollywood epics, but it left an impression on me. Through the years, I gravitated to the arts and would spend a significant amount of alone time with television and films, and enjoyed getting lost in them. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 90s was a tough reality, I escaped the hardships through cinema and public access programming. I imagined myself in different worlds and I loved it. We don't have video arts and film spaces in my neighborhood. We don't have cultural community spaces at all. I want to change that. I wholeheartedly believe Alfreda's Cinema will be a beacon of light for Brooklyn. 

Have you ever hesitated in pursuing your passion? Why? What support has helped you continue?

Yes, absolutely. I didn't think there was enough financial support for BIPOC films and a micro-cinema. And I was proven wrong when I started our crowdfunding campaign. The attention to our cause grew through press, essays, fast-growing social media, and sold-out events. 

Where have you needed to invest your time, energy, or other resources to pursue this passion? What have you removed from your life so that you could pursue it?

My energy goes into funding research and outreach, SBA/WENYC business management workshops, brand partnerships, merchandising, and event management. I left my dead-end job to work on Alfreda's Cinema full-time. And it has since revitalized my soul. I haven't been able to watch as many films as I would like, but we are building up and supporting emerging film programmers who can eventually create in our space when it's operational. 

Tell us about one challenge you've encountered as you've pursued this passion. What is it? Are you overcoming it, or still managing it? What tools or strategies have you found helpful for navigating this challenge?

Funding and sustaining cash flow through our merchandise hasn't grown as fast as we have hoped since incorporating in 2020 and receiving our first sale in 2021. However, this is a new aspect of our revenue stream. The strength of our business is in our events and screenings. To generate higher financial gains, we desperately need our own space. We've partnered with more cinemas than before since beginning in 2015, and are reaching wider audiences. We're also launching an online streaming platform to support the growth of our national audience. 

Look back at the "you" before you started this passion. Is your life different now? How?

I'm happier and grounded with a sense that I can create real change through this unique endeavor. 

Has your passion helped others? How? (Remember: what seems "small" to you could inspire others!)

Yes, there are women and Black/POC programmers taking the initiative to realize their own film spaces and platforms around the world. We've supported local filmmakers and encouraged them to strive towards creating with an assurance that they have a home to share their work. 

What is one "life lesson" you're learning as you pursue this passion? (Think of this as something you would share with a friend over coffee.)

I've learned not to be disappointed by people or opportunities I may not receive. If we want a certain outcome then I need to make that happen for myself. 

What would you say to a Passionado who is considering exploring a passion?

Do it, don't wait, and don't get discouraged by the time it may take. Everything comes when you're ready to receive it. 


To learn more about Alfreda’s Cinema and upcoming programs, follow @AlfredasCinema on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. 

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