A matter of taste: pushing boundaries at the Lincoln - Salish Current
June 20, 2024
A matter of taste: pushing boundaries at the Lincoln
Margaret Bikman

Karl Freske, program director at the Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon, poses in front of the theater’s silver screen and its Mighty Wurlitzer organ. (Margaret Bikman / Salish Current © 2024)

June 20, 2024
A matter of taste: pushing boundaries at the Lincoln
Margaret Bikman


A late-comer to watching movies in the theater finds job satisfaction as program director at the Lincoln Theatre — a job that includes scheduling films.

For nearly 25 years, Film is Truth: 24 Times a Second rented arthouse films, documentaries, foreign films and indie films to the Bellingham and Whatcom County community. 

But Film is Truth cofounder Karl Freske was a late-comer to film, who didn’t go to see movies in the theater much early on, until he was in high school. Now, he’s the program director at the Lincoln Theatre in downtown Mount Vernon. Which includes scheduling films. 

“I have always enjoyed imposing my taste on others,” he said. “I used to play in a band, I was a DJ at KUGS [at Western Washington University], booked punk shows in downtown Bellingham and published a zine for a decade. All of this is done under the egomaniacal belief that what I like should be shown to everyone else.”

Booking films and bands at the Lincoln is an extension of all of this.

Freske said he never knows where things are going. It’s an asset to be open as new things come up. “I might do a lot of research on pirate films for a week or two until I get distracted by goat-gland films, or Westerns that take place in the snow,” he said. “Things catch my eye and I pull on the thread for a while.” He’s interested in the way that things are put together, more intrigued in craft than art, he admits.

No guilt

He’s more patient with slow cinema than he used to be, but “less willing to spend time on something that I don’t think I’ll get anything out of. I don’t have any interest in movies that are ‘so bad they’re good,’ but on the other hand I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, either; if you like something, you like it and shouldn’t feel ‘guilty’.” It’s rare for him to watch a movie repeatedly, because he has an increasing sense that he has less and less time to see everything that he wants to.

As program director, Karl Freske not only schedules films (and concerts), but often provides pre-show insights into the films before they screen. (Margaret Bikman / Salish Current © 2024)

At the Lincoln, most events are booked around the schedule of Skagit Valley theater groups. Theater Arts Guild, NITE Theater and the Lincoln’s own Theatre School book several days or weeks for live theater well in advance. Then there’s a combination of fielding solicitations from agencies about artists that are touring through the Pacific Northwest (many who have been here before) and reaching out to artists that Freske would like to see onstage, which is something he’s hoping to increase. 

Once major concerts are booked, the future kind of takes shape, he said, and he can see what months can sustain another concert or event. After that, he books films to fill the weekends that would otherwise be dark. Most months have a film series on Tuesdays. Freske picks the theme for each series with occasional input from others. Sometimes the theme is seasonal — having movies about real-life women in March, for Women’s History Month, or film noir films for “Noirvember.” 

In focus

Sometimes the series is based around something that he’s interested in at the moment and he has to get it on screen before he loses focus. “Sometimes it’s based on a funny pun that I thought of for the title of the series, or a song that I think would be cool to build a trailer around. The narrower the focus, the more it appeals to me,” Freske said.

“If someone says ‘let’s show a series of “great movies”,’ that’s pretty dull. Great comedies? Better. Screwball comedies? We’re getting somewhere. Screwball comedies starring Cary Grant, released strictly between the years 1937 and 1940? There you go. 

“How narrow can a theme be while still yielding material that I’m comfortable standing behind? If I can’t find three or four films that I actually want to show to other people, I scrap everything and start over.”

Freske has scheduled a series in July called Anything Goes: Sinful Cinema of the Pre-Code Era. From 1934 to 1968, the industry was controlled by the  Hays Code, a self-imposed set of industry guidelines designed to assure that “No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it.” Among its many prohibitions were nudity, “lustful kissing,” interracial dating, profanity, and mocking religion 

On the Lincoln’s silver screen: “Little Caesar,” “Design for Living,” “Baby Face” and “The Sign of the Cross,” which were all made before the Hays Code took effect. And watch the Lincoln Theatre’s website for what’s up for August and Noirvember. 

Among the live concerts Freske’s looking forward to is John Primer and the Real Deal Blues Band on Aug. 26. 

As program director, Freske said, “I think that I’m doing some very interesting things but I always feel that I can push the boundaries more than I am. The type of events — concerts, films — that appeal to me the most are the ones where I ask myself, ‘Can I get away with this?’ In a lot of ways I feel like I have barely started.”

— By Margaret Bikman

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