Back before you could find virtually any movie on cable TV, VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix, etc., you had to rely on a local repertory movie theater to see movies that fell outside the mainstream. These films were not only the edgy independent ones, but also foreign and classic films that hadn’t been shown in theaters for years. The local repertory theater where I grew up … the Naro Expanded Cinema in Norfolk, VA … showed a terrific mix of all these genres and some of the best moviegoing memories of my youth and young adulthood took place at the Naro.
The Naro is still open, but is in the midst of desperately trying to raise funds to buy a digital projector before the end of the calendar year. The reason is because after December 31 this year, most Hollywood studios will no longer be supplying theaters with 35mm film prints, the primary means of projecting films for several decades. The big first-run chains (Regal, Cinemark, AMC, etc.) aren’t worried since most are already showing digital prints exclusively (and their conversion was subsidized by the studios) . But the smaller, independent theaters are the ones that are hurting the most. It’s like one final kick to the teeth to what has been a filmgoing tradition for several years. Strangely, I live in a town that’s 1/10 the size of the Tidewater, Virginia metro area and our local repertory house already finished their digital projector campaign … but I digress …
I thought a lot about the Naro while watching “The Rep,” a terrific documentary about the current struggle repertory theaters face, specifically one in Toronto, Ontario called “Toronto Underground Cinema” that started in 2010 and the owners’ oftentimes desperate efforts to keep their theater afloat. Granted, the notion of starting a business like this in a modern era … where most people (including myself) are now comfortably watching movies on large-screen televisions in HD … seems foolhardy at best. But as a film-lover, I can’t help but feel my heart break when these cinephiles put their hearts and souls into programming great movies for people to watch … only to have 5 or less people show up for a screening. It becomes apparent that the owners are not the best businessmen, but damn if their hearts aren’t in the right place. In addition to showing the struggles of the Toronto Underground Cinema, “The Rep” interviews other theater owners and filmmakers (Kevin Smith, John Water, Atom Egoyan) about their own experiences with repertory cinema.
Look, if you really care about moviegoing … and there’s a local repertory theater in your town … do the right thing and check out a movie there every now and then …. even if you can instantly watch it on Xfinity or iTunes right now. If that repertory theater shows second-run Hollywood films on occasion to pay its nut and support edgier fare at other times, wait to see that blockbuster you would otherwise see at the multiplex and pay to see it at the rep. Because the people that run those places care about movies … far more than the dips–ts working at the multiplex … and are probably are working there for free mainly because they see a value in preserving the filmgoing experience many of us grew up on.
Of course, the crowning irony of this tirade is that I had to watch “The Rep” through a download from Amazon. Regardless … this is a movie worth checking out however you see it … and hopefully it will inspire you to check out a repertory theater near you.