We have such a wealth of choices when it comes to how, when and where we watch films now, but there’s still nothing that beats the cinema-going experience. In every large city there’s generally several options to indulge in that cinema-going experience (including cinema chains), but how often do you see a film at your local independent cinema?
There’s a scene (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) in Craig Brewer’s fantastic film Dolemite is My Name that I find truly inspiring: after the blood, sweat, and tears of making Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore fails to secure a distributor. Things come to a head when a radio DJ wants to know when people can see the film. Off air, Moore confesses that they don’t have a distributor, which prompts the DJ to suggest a small cinema that might host the film. Moore would have to pay for a screening, but could keep the profits. And after some enthusiastic hustling to promote the film it not only sells out, but has a genuinely appreciative audience. Thank you, independent cinema owner!
I can honestly say that this year I saw only one film at a cinema chain. The rest of my viewings were at independent cinemas in Wellington (during NZIFF 2019) and Christchurch. This wasn’t a strategic decision…it just turned out that the independent cinemas were screening the films I wanted to see over the blockbuster fare that was available at the cinema chains. As a result, I fell back in love with independent cinemas, and I hope after reading this you will too. Below are some reasons to support your local independent cinemas; both as an audience member and a filmmaker:
They screen great independent, foreign language, and genre films: Parasite, High Life, Amazing Grace, Maiden…chances are, if you were a New Zealander and saw any of these films this year in cinema, it was probably at one of the independent cinemas dotted around the country. Sometimes you don’t want to wait for something to come out on VOD or a streaming platform, and independent cinemas are great at bringing those films to you. They can’t bring everything to the big screen, sadly, but they bring their audiences a very fine selection each year.
They’re a great destination for film festival fare and small festivals: in my home town, Christchurch, we are fortunate enough to have Lumière Cinemas as one of the screening destinations for the New Zealand International Film Festival (along with the Isaac Theatre Royal), but this year they have also hosted the inaugural Christchurch leg of the Terror-Fi Film Festival and are soon to host Madman Reel Anime 2019 as well!
The Hollywood Avondale in Auckland is known for their legendary 24 Hour Movie Marathon, which is in its 20th year in 2019. Check out your local independent cinema, as they can often host great festivals which bring you unique fare (and sometimes before general release).
They host special and limited screenings: whether it’s a Rocky Horror Picture Show sing-a-long screening, a big screen showing of The Room or a movie marathon, independent cinemas bring you the good stuff. Scrolling through the event listings of an independent cinema on their website can feel like their offerings were tailored for you, and you alone. After seeing Midsommar at NZIFF 2019, I absolutely jumped at the chance to see the director’s cut on the big screen (and traumatise my partner, who didn’t see the theatrical cut beforehand).
There are independent cinemas that are opting to screen some of the Netflix films which were available for theatrical release as well (The Guardian has a great explanation of why some theatre chains are opting not to offer these screenings). I went to see The King on the big screen before it hit Netflix, partly because I wanted to be a sort of ‘guinea pig’ for the small theatrical release window, but mostly because I’m a massive fan of David Michôd’s filmmaking, as well as the Shakespeare Henriad that the film is based on. It was definitely well worth seeing on the big screen due to the battle scenes, but it’s also a bit of a treat to see it before it hits Netflix. It will be interesting to see how this format of screening windows develops in the future, but for now there’s independent cinemas that are embracing it wholeheartedly.
In 2016, Academy Cinemas very graciously hosted the advanced screening and Q&A session of Life Off Grid (a film Film Sprites PR was doing the NZ publicity and social media marketing for). Despite the fact that Quentin Tarantino was in town for the Hateful Eight premiere, ardent fans of independent documentaries and sustainability turned up to welcome the film wholeheartedly.
They’re designed with cinephiles in mind: the one thing I’ve noticed about independent cinemas over cinema chains is that the independent cinemas are a haven for cinephiles. Plush seating, opulent surroundings, and quite often there’s wine and cheese platters on offer for those who really want to revel in their cinematic experience (also great for date night!).
Enjoy a signature cocktail at an indie cinema bar, or catch up with a friend post-screening for coffee. And trust me, I’ve never met a coffee at an independent cinema I didn’t like.
They often support local content: here’s a tip for independent filmmakers if you are self-distributing (or want to host an event or cast screening of your film): get in touch with your local independent cinema. Often they have reasonable rates for screening films or fundraising nights, so it’s worth checking out what they may be able to do for you. And, hey, you might end up doing a Dolemite….