I'll admit it--I like gigantic screens, stadium seating, and choose-your-acronym audio as much as the next guy. But, for me and many other Triangle filmgoers, Friday and Saturday nights routinely involve the same sad ritual: 1) drive around the parking lot for 15 minutes, then park so far away from the multiplex that you consider hailing a cab to carry you to the entrance; 2) wait to buy tickets from the only two windows that are open, in a line that stretches all the way to the curb; 3) once inside, wait in line to spend $20 on a mutant-sized candy bar, popcorn in a tub the size of an inflated kiddie pool and enough soda to fill said pool; and 4) spend 10 minutes searching or begging for the last empty seats in the theater, suspiciously doubting the sincerity of those claiming that they're "saving these seats for someone." Notwithstanding the currently darkened screens at the former Madstone Theater and the recent (and hopefully temporary) fiery destruction of the Starlite Drive-In, there remains a veritable plethora of cinematic alternatives for area cinephiles and cinephytes alike this fall.
There's no better time than movie-awards season (November through February) to venture out into the realm of the art-houses.
Durham boasts perhaps the most beautiful, opulent movie auditorium in the Triangle--the Carolina Theatre, downtown on Morgan Street (www.carolinatheatre.org), home to regular weekly showings and a bevy of local film festivals. Make sure to catch a showing inside the gorgeous Cinema One and, when available, the ornate Fletcher Hall.
In Raleigh, Bill Peebles' theater collective is anchored by the Rialto on Glenwood Avenue. This grand dame of Five Points hasn't lost any of its charm over the years, and it has an open bar! Its sister theater is the dual-screen Colony , located on Six Forks Road, also featuring independent and foreign releases.
Bruce Stone's three Chapel Hill theaters are among the town's many riches. The Varsity is a local institution, denoted by its prominent marquee that protrudes into heart of Franklin Street. Less than a block away is the Carolina. And the postage-stamp sized Chelsea, at Timberlyne Shopping Center, hosts many indie releases you may never find anywhere else in the area.
Societies and Specialty Series
Designed to promote the work of women in film, Ms. Films is a nonprofit organization under the Southern Documentary Fund that sponsors year-round programs and festivals. Log onto www.msfilms.org for a schedule of events, including the MadCat International Women's Film Festival touring program, hosted by Duke University's Screen/Society on Nov. 29.
Sept. 12 launched another year of Raleigh's oldest film society, The Cinema Inc. A $20 membership entitles you to enjoy 12 classic features at the Rialto Theatre, one on the second Sunday of every month. Season passes go quick, but those still interested can attend screenings with another member (www.cinema-inc.org). Chapel Hill's Flicker is a bimonthly film series dedicated to spotlighting local filmmakers and their short films. Flicker will host its 10th Anniversary Show on Sept. 24 and 25 at Cat's Cradle (www.chapel-hill.nc.us/flicker).
Perhaps the most unique entry in the Triangle film scene is A/V Geeks, the cover name given to Skip Elsheimer's collection of over 14,000 vintage educational films (www.avgeeks.com). After a swing through New York state, look for his next local program on Sept. 28 at Kings on South McDowell Street in Raleigh. The topic--Terror of the TV Spots.
Take it Outside
Although the N.C. Museum of Art's Summer Movies on the Lawn series wrapped up the final week of August (its indoor Winter Film Series starts in January 2005), there remains several opportunities during the next month or so take in a flick under the autumnal stars. The Lumina Park Theatre at 620 Market St. in Chapel Hill will host weekend outdoor movies through the end of September (www.thelumina.com). And, the Regency Park Amphitheatre in Cary will sponsor at least two more of their Movies by Moonlight--Mean Girls on Oct. 8 (www.amphitheatreatregencypark.com/schedule).
The Really Big Screen
The IMAX Theatre at Exploris (201 E. Hargett St., Raleigh) boasts a movie-watching experience like no other. The 52-foot-high flat screen and 12,000-watt DTAC sound system puts audiences in the center of the action. In addition to IMAX's traditional pictorial films, viewers can enjoy remastered versions of such Hollywood fare as Spiderman 2 and Harry Potter (www.exploris.org/visit/imax/index.html).
Back to School
Local universities continue to provide a reliable outlet for quality cinema, and not just for their students. Duke University's graduate Screen/Society sponsors semester-long programs and events, most of which are open and free to the general public. Their fall 2004 program feature series, which began Aug. 25, will highlight French & Francophone, Latin American, New East Asian and Turkish Cinema ( www.duke.edu/web/film/screensociety/Fall2004Schedule.html). The Freewater Presentation Society offers more mainstream fare throughout the fall (www.duke.edu/web/duu/freewaterpres/freewaterschedulespring2004.htm). And, the University's renowned Center for Documentary Studies holds regular curriculum-related exhibitions and film screenings (cds.aas.duke.edu/events).
In Raleigh, the N.C. State Campus Cinema (located in Witherspoon Student Center) hosts nightly movies (www.ncsu.edu/cinema). The film studies department's Fall Film series will focus this semester on classic horror films (www.ncsu.edu/chass/film/events/events.html).
And at UNC-Chapel Hill, the Carolina Union hosts showings every Friday and Saturday night (carolinaunion.unc.edu/happening/movies.html), while the Media Resources Center begins their Fall Film series on Sept. 27 with an award-winning collection of recently or currently released foreign and independent short and feature films (www.lib.unc.edu/house/mrc/html/events.html).
Meals on Reels
How about dinner with your movie? Raleighwood is a locally owned and operated theater that affords patrons the chance to enjoy a flick while dining on burgers and pizza. This local favorite is at 6609 Falls of the Neuse Road in Raleigh (www.raleighwoodmovies.com).
The (Nearly) Last Picture Show
Although not inside the Triangle, no local cinematic tour would be complete without a jaunt to Graham Cinema (119 N. Main St., Graham, N.C.). This vintage, 350+ seat movie house, complete with balcony, is one of the last old-style theaters. Now showing second-run films, be sure to call (336) 226-1488 for showtimes and laughs, compliments of owner Tim Matthews' infamous outgoing messages.