Arthouse Experience - Year 2

Virginia Theatre Marquee
Photo by Sanford

This is a longer description of what films were included in year two, and why.  For a list of films with trailers, please see this page: https://blog.tectonicspeed.com/p/arthouse-experience-films-year-2.html

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All of the ideas expressed in this article are my personal statements and opinions, and do not reflect the opinions/statements of the City of Urbana.

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For year two of the Arthouse Experience, I broadened the genres within the “Arthouse” classification – slipping in Comedy, Horror, Musical Performance, and whatever you want to call Baraka. For this series, the term “Arthouse” implies quality filmmaking more than any single style – and is best described by what it’s not: a wide-release mainstream film. (Note #1)

The Experience of the series is watching excellent films together in a restored historic theater. For one night a month the Virginia becomes the most gorgeous Arthouse theater in the world, like it does at Ebertfest. Also like Ebertfest: pre-show introductions and post-show discussions celebrate that going to the movies is more than just watching the content; it’s sharing a communal event. (The series echoes Ebertfest in film selection, too. Some of these films played at Ebertfest - so whenever possible we replay their post-film discussions.)

This year’s films fall into three groups: Classic Arthouse Films, Documentaries, and Films I Would Have LOVED to Play at the Art Theater (Note #2).

Classic Arthouse Films

The Hours – August 17, 2022
The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret) - December 14, 2022
Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) - April 26, 2023
Mulholland Drive - June 14, 2023

Each of these “classics” was released between 2001 and 2008, and all were recognized at the time through awards and prizes. Both of the subtitled films (The Band’s Visit and Let the Right One In) showed at Ebertfest, which gives them greater name recognition locally than they have in general. 

Screening great films at the Virginia with the full treatment of intros and discussions, especially for people seeing them for the first time (or at least the first time in a theater.)  This is what the series is all about, but we could easily fill the whole series with films like this – so I had to limit them to four. Selecting these were some of the hardest programming decisions. (Note #3)

Documentaries

They Shall Not Grow Old – November 9, 2022
My Octopus Teacher
– February 8, 2023
Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé
– March 8, 2023
Baraka
– July 12, 2023

Last year NONE of the series’ films were documentaries – so four this year is a bit of make-up, although only one is a talking-head documentary. (Not Stop Making Sense but hmm… that would be great in a future year.)

Here is my thought process, because showing any older documentary is a delicate balance. Documentaries have a unique niche in film exhibition: most of them do poor business… except for a few that do INCREDIBLY WELL. They’re tough to predict, and you have to ride the momentum.  Playing old hits (think Won’t You Be My Neighbor or RGB) isn’t enough since those are readily available at home.  Also, many documentaries have a short half-life, becoming dated soon after their release.

The docs selected had to have something beyond a great story – they needed to deserve the big screen treatment of the Virginia. And so, I’m excited because each of the four tells a gripping true story with a stunning audio-visual experience.

I can’t decide which of the four I’m most excited about. I’ve seen Baraka at the Virginia and it’s AMAZING, but having watched Homecoming on my home TV, I can’t wait to see this concert film with the Virginia’s sound system. Meanwhile They Shall Not Grow Old and My Octopus Teacher are both magnificent technical achievements that will look great on the big screen.

Films I Would Have LOVED to Play at the Art Theater

JoJo Rabbit – September 21, 2022
Queen and Slim - October 19, 2022
The French Dispatch - January 25, 2023
The Two Popes - May 31, 2023

All these films were released after the Art closed in 2019 – but all are perfect fits for an Arthouse theater. The wonderful pleasure of this series is that we can highlight them and give them the proper treatment.

When selecting films for the Art Theater, the goal was to select films with a combination of quality, intelligence, commercial popularity… with a Limited Release. (Note # 4) Each of these lands solidly in the middle of that Venn diagram – and (bonus!) feature well-known actors and key roles. Sorry, but even running an Arthouse theater is a business – and audiences like actors they know.

These four films reflect my own personal tastes more than the other two groups. I like films that challenge viewers and blend genres, with meaning beyond the literal events of the script. They’re the films you want to watch, share, and discuss – the ones that deliver the true Arthouse Experience.

Notes

Note #1: My criteria was simple: films that opened at less than 600 theaters (OK… 1,000 screens – I moved the limit - and see Note #4), which would have qualified them as a “limited release” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limited_theatrical_release) back when that term had meaning. In fact, this year has several films that opened on ZERO screens because they were released on streaming and never played in theaters. This was a pleasant change from last year, when streaming services kept films from being available.

Note #2: From 2010 - 2012 I operated the Art Theater in Champaign, IL – a now-defunct one-screen theater. (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1851) Here’s a history of my time at the Art, written by local legend Perry Morris: https://www.cutheaterhistory.com/art-theater-hess

Note #3: I considered dozens of films and rejected many based on a re-watching. Some “classic” films don’t hold up well due to dated stereotypes and unfortunate casting. Others simply weren’t as good as my memory thought they were - a common risk when we revisit old favorites. Some failed on more than one level.😕

Note #4: As a one-screen theater, it was risky to grab onto a wide-release because they usually had a minimum number of weeks. Limited release films came with more flexibility and operated unlike the traditional model of wide-screen releases.

Limited Releases also allowed quirky films a chance to win an audience. JoJo Rabbit took advantage of that - it opened at only 5 theaters in its first week, and 55 in its second. Eventually it peaked at 1,000 theaters and had a resurgence after the Oscar nominations announcement. (https://www.boxofficemojo.com/release/rl2030601729/weekly/?ref_=bo_rl_tab#tabs)

“Queen and Slim” is the one exception I made to the rule of Limited Release because it opened wide (at 1,625 theaters) but dropped off precipitously in a short run (https://www.boxofficemojo.com/release/rl50824705/weekly/?ref_=bo_rl_tab#tabs). This is, to me, and example of the wrong release strategy. The benefit of a limited release is that a film has time to find an audience. Queen and Slim confounds expectations on genre, but I found the two leads riveting and the hauntingly beautiful. In short, it’s an overlooked film that deserves more of an audience than it had!