Art house theaters learn from Record Store Day

Just like people have moved from records to discs and downloads, viewers are increasingly choosing to stream movies or watch them on demand. Enter National Art House Theater Day, which celebrates the cultural role of art houses in the community.

As technological changes alter the way we watch movies, art houses — the often locally owned theaters that show the “quality” indie and foreign films that usually dominate end-of-year awards lists — are taking a page from the indie record stores. Many of them nationally, including the Esquire and the Mariemont locally, are participating in the first Art House Theater Day on Saturday.

Participating theaters are offering special, one-day-only screenings of four movies. There is a $10 charge per film. (Cincinnati’s two art houses are also screening a fifth, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.)

Indie record stores, fearing for their future as recorded-music consumers moved from compact discs to downloads, launched Record Store Day in 2008, with labels issuing special releases to drive people to the shops. It’s become an unofficial holiday, and is credited with reviving vinyl albums.

Art houses now face a similar problem. As people increasingly choose to stream new movies, or watch via video-on-demand, the kinds of small, specialized films you once had to live in a city to see in a timely fashion are becoming readily available in living rooms everywhere. And since the art house audience is already smaller than the one for mainstream Hollywood films, this is a business threat.

“We want people to know we provide a service for people who view movies as an art form,” says Diane Janicki, operations manager for Cincinnati’s Theatre Management Corp., which runs the Esquire and Mariemont. “These days, there are other platforms to find them, but this is where you also find other people who like the same movies. You can’t do that at home.”

The idea originated with an association called Art House Convergence, which represents some 200 nonprofit and commercial theaters and has an annual conference.

“I felt there was not enough understanding on a national level about what an art house does and what it adds to our cultural fabric,” says Gabe Chicoine, of the Austin Film Society and a co-director of National Art House Theater Day. “Many people are aware of their own city’s art theater, but not that there is a national network of theaters sharing independent, foreign and documentary films. This is a chance to tell people that this is a movement.”

Here are details about the four movies to be nationally screened Saturday:

Time Bandits (1 p.m.): Janus Films is providing a new 2-K restoration of this 1981 fantasy classic by the visionary director (and Monty Python member) Terry Gilliam. He wrote it with Python member Michael Palin and stars Python John Cleese. 

A Town Called Panic: Double Fun (3:30 p.m.): From GKIDS, the distributor of sophisticated animated family films, comes two new shorts by the Belgian directors of the popular French-language A Town Called Panic. The new ones are Christmas Panic and Back to School Panic.

Danny Says (5 p.m.): Magnolia Pictures is offering this new documentary on Danny Fields, a Zelig-like pop culture figure who as a journalist and record-company executive was an early champion of The Doors, the Ramones, Lou Reed, Judy Collins and many more.

“I was happy to make (Danny Says) available,” says Neal Block, Magnolia Pictures’ head of theatrical distribution, via (an edited) email. “Turning a film screening into an event is not a new idea, but it’s become so much more important, and more practical in the contemporary marketplace. Art House Theater Day is ‘eventized’ independent cinema on a larger scale.” 

Phantasm (10 p.m.): This screening debuts Well Go USA Entertainment’s new 4-K digital restoration of a 1979 fantasy-horror picture by Don Coscarelli. The term “4-K” means 4,000 pixels per horizontal scan line, and it has become the current best choice for high-definition digital restorations of classic films. Art houses with 4-K projection equipment increasingly book and promote such releases as first-run product, since they can show them with far greater clarity than film buffs can see at home.


For more info about ART HOUSE THEATER DAY screenings in Cincinnati, visit esquiretheatre.com. For general information, visit arthousetheaterday.org.

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