When we first got a look at Lee Gardner's feature story about the impact of video on demand and the increasing number of streaming-video options on art houses and indie films, we immediately thought of our local grassroots screening ventures. Over the past decade a handful of programs and festivals have sprung up to fill San Antonio's indie and foreign film void. Will the ability to watch Steven Soderbergh's latest experiment, or your favorite film artifact any time, anywhere, winnow down the audience?
The short answer: No.
"Many people still like to see film projected on a screen," says Rene Barilleaux, chief curator at the McNay and coordinator of the museum's film program, Get Reel, which presents recent-release foreign and indies that didn't make it to SA screens for long if at all, such as Inch' Allah dimanche and The Rage in Placid Lake. "But also, the communal experience you don't get at home."
Get Reel begins the evening with a wine reception, which adds to the sense of community, says Barilleaux, the pleasure of "being with other people of like interests."
Nathan Cone, who runs Texas Public Radio's Cinema Tuesday's program, agrees with Barilleaux.
"We provide a group experience at the same time as you watch a film," Cone says. "I think I really enjoy it a lot more when I have 150 people next to me to laugh along with it."
And if you really love film, even a 50-inch hi-def screen can't recreate the theater experience: think of Marlon Brando's subtle body language in On the Waterfront, he says: those little hand movements. "Even on your television at home, you lose some of that."
TPR initiated Cinema Tuesdays almost a decade ago as a fundraiser, but it quickly developed a loyal following, and now, says Cone, they consider it part of the station's programming. Cinema Tuesdays tends to focus on classic foreign and Hollywood films, such as Taxi Driver, which will screen August 4, but isn't above Pee-wee's Big Adventure, either.
"Some movies are scheduled just because they're good movies and should be seen," says Cone. The program, which runs during the hot summer months, reliably draws 140-150 viewers, but depending on the selection, as many as 300 might show up. And when your core audience is made up of cinephiles, you'll often be surprised. Cone booked only one screen when they showed Jean Renoir's The River, and ended up turning away dozens of people.
Like Barilleaux, Cone acknowledges that TPR's cinema audience tends to be in their 40s and older, but selections such as A Clockwork Orange, e.g., will bring out a younger, more alternative crowd.
"I think it tends to be an older audience [for Get Reel]," says Barilleaux, but an audience that wants to see challenging fare. And an audience that, like Cinema Tuesday's devotees, appreciates a curator's eye in a world of almost limitless options.
The crowds that turn up for the free Slab Cinema screenings, and their City-sponsored offshoots at Main Plaza and Movies by Moonlight at HemisFair, are all-ages and, say organizers Angela and Rick Martinez, hard to define.
"I would say that Young Frankenstein or Ghostbusters are movies that work best at Hemisfair Park. Movies that entertain you whether you like it or not," Rick Martinez wrote in an email. "Casual movie buffs and film snobs can both get something out of them."
The indie film crowd turns out for selections such as The Darjeeling Limited at Main Plaza, which is a more intimate setting, he says. And as for the cement slab across from La Tuna ice house that started it all with free screenings of films in the public domain?
"I think Eegah or any Roger Corman film is the best example of what works at La Tuna. B films that are so far out there that you have to see it because you’re curious. Not sure what crowd these draw."
Angela Martinez says that if anything, the increasing availability of films like the classics and indies that Warner is now making available through their Archives program, is good for their program.
"I don't think it really affects the movie events much as those are about the community experience of watching movies outdoors in a unique venue," she says. Even recent major-studio releases, which between theaters, DVD, and cable, are often ubiquitous, draw a crowd. "The city chose Kung Fu Panda [for a HemisFair Park screening] and I didn't think that would be a great choice because there is a high probability that people with kids already have it, plus people have probably seen it recently," she says. But it drew Movies by Moonlight's highest turnout yet.
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