‘Art-House America’ shows the importance of independent cinemas
By Jerrison Oracion, Senior Columnist
Independent cinemas or art-house cinemas are community spaces for film. Many people—including me—who like movies go to these places to see films that you cannot see in a multiplex. This includes movies that are presented on film rather than digitally. There are also locations to talk about film and go beyond the film with conversation panels—there are also places where you can get popcorn made the old-fashioned way like in the early years of movie theatres.
When I go to the Vancity Theatre, the staff and some of the other people that I see inside know me and we talk about the film that we are about to watch, as well as some of the other films that are currently playing or coming soon. These cinemas are also communities. They are all currently closed because of the coronavirus pandemic; when this pandemic ends, I plan to go to a theatre and eat popcorn. All of this inspired me to watch a show I have been enjoying: Art-House America. It is a web show from streaming service The Criterion Channel.
It shows the history of some of the most famous art-house cinemas in the United States and why they are important in discovering, developing, and preserving cinema. The programmers in these cinemas talk about how they curate their films and why they show them to their audiences as well as the outreach programs that they do in their communities. In each episode, their interviews are accompanied by the films that are currently being shown in their cinema.
In the episode on the Jacob Burns Film Centre in Pleasantville, New York, I learned that film labs allow filmmakers to develop their craft. Additionally, the late director Jonathan Demme (who directed The Silence of the Lambs) is important in the curation of the Jacob Burns Film Centre’s programming and they show his rarely seen films. After that, I watched the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense directed by Demme (this band might have inspired a famous Canadian band called Arcade Fire). After late director Bernardo Bertolucci saw this film, he got the lead member of the Talking Heads, David Byrne, to do parts of the score of The Last Emperor.
Film discussion is the theme in the episode on the Walter Reade Theatre in New York City. There is an episode on The Loft Cinema in Tucson, Arizona. This theatre is as fun as The Rio Theatre; this interesting theatre takes their show on the road and show films to people in hard to reach places. The idea of the art-house cinema as a community space is discussed in the episode on The Texas Theatre in Dallas, Texas—and the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle. An interesting episode is the episode on the Gold Town Nickelodeon in Juneau, Alaska—I learned that it was initially used to show the founder’s documentary about the history of the gold rush in the city, and it was used to show other films only to fund the theatre.
The current curator of the theatre, Collette Costa, is fun and knowledgeable. You can even watch the documentary that is seen in the episode. Criterion Collection recently did a GoFundMe where they raised $500,000 to help art-house cinemas stay open after the pandemic—they even got donations from Wes Anderson and Netflix. While movie theatres will not be open again for awhile, you can learn about their significance with Art-House America. After you watch it though, you probably will want to go to a movie theatre.