Growing up in St. Croix in the Caribbean, watching films were a staple of Walter Krochmal’s upbringing.
He remembers his father setting up an old projector to watch Heckle and Jeckle cartoons — a mischievous pair of identical birds who flew into film and television screens between the 1940s and 1980s — as an enjoyable pastime.
Today, his love for film is fulfilled with Bronx World Film, a nonprofit dedicated to screening art house movies from a variety of countries in order to help expand audience’s worldviews and their immediate surroundings.
“What I’m doing right now is really just tied back to that basic impulse of, ‘Hey, let’s get together with a bunch of friends and watch some movies and have a lot of fun,’” Krochmal said.
His journey in launching Bronx World Film could probably be a movie itself. For years, Krochmal felt as though the Bronx — where his father was born — was always drawing him in from the Caribbean. He’d return to the borough for a number of odd jobs, and when he eventually met and fell in love with his wife, Krochmal finally decided to make the move in 1999.
From there, Krochmal took on a variety of jobs, from being a court interpreter to voiceover acting.
Shortly after, his work as an actor took him to the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 for a short film he was in. It was then he came across the Short Film Corner, where artists from around the world debuted their work to a wide audience. Krochmal was mesmerized by the films he watched, realizing he needed to bring a similar quality of work to his own backyard.
“Our communities need something like this,” he said. “They need new thinking, they need new avenues for development.”
Krochmal collected information from the filmmakers he met at the Short Film Corner, promising he’d do something meaningful with their work. That promise was something Krochmal considered a contract between them and a contract with himself.
After extensive research on the communities in each section of the Bronx, Krochmal was ready to launch Bronx World Film in 2011. But similar to a typical movie plot, there were obstacles in his way.
Krochmal reached out to multiple arts organizations in the borough, but none showed any interest in sponsoring art house film screenings. So he then looked south to Manhattan.
“Sometimes I felt discouraged,” Krochmal said. “I know that in the nonprofit world that I work in, that this is fundable. That this can generate opportunities. I’ve never doubted that.”
It wasn’t long until he found a home for Bronx World Film at La Nacional, also known the Spanish Benevolent Society. There, he started the Bronx World Film Cycle, a two- to three-day free film screening in December where people can take in not only movies from around the world, but also a visual arts exhibit as well as Central American food — an homage to Krochmal’s culture.
His ultimate goal was to create a film experience that would be much more than “just coming in, watching films, and leaving,” by curating movies from filmmakers he’s met throughout the last six years.
Funding also hasn’t come easy for Krochmal, who runs the organization on his own. Bronx World Film has not garnered nonprofit status yet, so he’s had to dip into his own pockets to keep the organization afloat. It wasn’t until recently that he teamed up with The Field, an already established nonprofit that helps artists and arts organizations apply for various grants and acquire funding.
But in the last six years, Krochmal has continued to be persistent with his goal to bring art house films to the Bronx, citing that it’s important to bring authenticity to the borough in an effort to combat gentrification.
“My research and my studies have led me to believe that this was the year I needed to come back and do something outdoors,” Krochmal said. “It cannot wait (for) next year. We want to be protagonists of that story. We do not want to be shunned to the side.”
With that in mind, he launched a summer series of the Bronx World Film Cycle that took place over several weekends in August at various Bronx parks. Krochmal curated each screening by choosing films that were culturally relevant to communities in the Bronx that identified as either Puerto Rican, Dominican, Middle Eastern, or Native American.
The final screening took place at Joyce Kilmer Park by the Grand Concourse on Aug. 26.
While reception to the screenings has been slow, Krochmal is confident it will pick up in the future.
“I know it will take time, but I’m very confident that it will happen,” he said. “That’s why the project is going year-round, so that people get used to this kind of film and you create that kind of film culture.”
As Bronx World Film makes the trip back uptown, Krochmal hopes to expand screenings to any and every public space in Riverdale, from nursing homes to schools, to educate people about art house films.
He’s also had a chance to meet Bronx filmmakers whose films he’s screened, and plans to continue cultivating a relationship with each of them.
“Now I’m beginning to see that I’m meeting all these interesting filmmakers and they’re interested in me and I’m interested in them,” Krochmal said. “And that holds all the promise in the world.”
In the future, Krochmal hopes Bronx World Film also will be the site of a production house. But for now, he wants to focus on finding like-minded film enthusiasts.
“I know my borough well enough to know that there’s people out there like me,” he said.
“I’ve just got to find them.”