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Against prevailing trends, Raleigh Grande to expand specialty film options

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With the continuing uncertainty over the future of Cary's Galaxy Cinema and its six art-house screens, as well as an unmistakable trend among other Triangle art houses toward slam-dunk titles and revivals of old favorites and less on obscurities that may not sell tickets no matter the critical estimation, it may seem like an odd time for an effort to expand its offerings.

But there is some unlikely hope coming out of the strip malls on Glenwood Avenue, specifically the Lynn Road intersection where the multiplex known as the Raleigh Grande 16 is nestled. The operators of this theater are ready to let people know they're on a mission to save art-house cinema in Raleigh.

"It's been my view for some time now that Raleigh could do well to have more screens devoted to independent and specialized film," says Bill Banowsky, owner of Carolina Cinemas, which owns the Grande. "Essentially, our goal is to create an art house within a large, successful commercial theater."

Banowsky lives in Austin, Texas, where he operates Violet Crown Cinema, a relative newcomer in a city famous for its support of indie films. His interests in North Carolina comprise 42 screens in Raleigh, Charlotte and Asheville, where he also founded the ActionFest film festival. He's also been involved in producing movies, including serving as executive producer for Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney's Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

But before he got into showing movies, he founded Magnolia Pictures, which he sold to Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner in 2003. He says he's hoping the Grande will become the same temple for mainstream and independent film that Carolina Cinemas' The Carolina Asheville multiplex currently is. According to Banowsky, more than a million dollars has already been put into renovating and updating the Grande, including converting all 16 screens to digital and launching an upcoming plan to replace all theater seating.

But more important is the inclusion of more art-house titles. Previously, the Grande has devoted two screens to art-house films; now, it's expanding to four.

"The difference between what we've been doing in the past and what we're going to be doing is a much more focused effort on developing the market for these titles, these specialty titles that are coming from places like Magnolia and IFC and all the other really independent film distributors," says Banowsky. "Those films need a little bit more care, a little bit more local, commercial work done."

They're getting the ball rolling this Friday, Aug. 31, with an exclusive engagement of Killer Joe, the highly touted, NC-17-rated, pitch-black comedy starring Matthew McConaughey as a lethal hit man helping out a hopelessly white-trash Texas family.

"The goal for us is like we've done in other markets: to develop a following for these films," Banowsky says. "So that people can get used to them playing there and it becomes a more natural selection process for them to come out to the theater and see these films because they're expecting them."

Here's a survey of this fall's repertory highlights:

The N.C. Museum of Art will once again dip in the film noir well for its fall film series, spotlighting memorable, silver screen femme fatales for its Women of Film Noir run. It starts on Sept. 21 with the Rita Hayworth stunner Gilda, with other classics like The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity and Chinatown coming later.

Local art-house theaters will once again keep their regular revival happenings going strong. That long-running monthly movie club known as Cinema, Inc. begins its 2012–13 season at the Rialto with the British political satire In the Loop on Sept. 9. In the coming months, they'll screen such diverse titles as The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, M, Winter's Bone and Airplane!

The Colony will continue its Cool Classics series, going back to the '90s with Dazed & Confused on Sept. 19 and Pulp Fiction on Oct. 17, as well as its new Music at the Movies series, playing High Fidelity on Sept. 27 and The Blues Brothers on Oct. 25. And let us not forget the Colony's monthly grindhouse series, Cinema Overdrive, which will play David Cronenberg's freaky and frightening The Brood on Sept. 12.

The Carolina Theatre will also get scary as always with its Retrofantasma and Retroclassics double features. In September, the theater will have double shots of Eyes Without a Face and Curse of the Demon (Sept. 7), and Creepshow and Return of the Living Dead (Sept. 28).

Speaking of the Carolina, the theater will once again get nostalgic with its annual Escapism Film Festival, beginning Sept. 17. Once again, audiences will revisit such classic movies of their childhood as Reagan-era favorites E.T., Ghostbusters, The Goonies, Highlander (the director's cut!) and the entire Back to the Future trilogy. But this year, it's going to be an insane, 11-day event, with two weeks of nightly double-feature screenings and a weekend full of screenings sandwiched in between.

Since we're talking about festivals, over at UNC, the Sonja Haynes Stone Center's yearly Diaspora Festival of Black and Independent Film will jump off on Sept. 6, screening an eclectic selection of features and shorts on the black experience. However, if you like a film festival with a bit of Frenchiness to it, Duke's Center for French and Francophone Studies will be hosting a French film series, at the college's Griffith Film Theater, from Sept. 3 to Oct. 1. Check for more Duke listings on the Screen Society website: ami.duke.edu/screensociety.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Grindhouse revival."

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