Joy of the Art House Cinema

When I was 13, my brother took me to see my first film in an art house theatre, the Bytowne Cinema in Ottawa. We saw Casablanca, and I have to admit, I cannot recall if I enjoyed it or not. However, I can recall how great it was seeing the film in a theatre like that. After the film, people stood up and clapped, not because out of tradition but because the presentation they just saw deserved it. The hall and door ways were packed with strangers discussing the film. Peoples’ faces were lit up with smiles. This was an experience that I can still remember clearly.

For those whose main passion in life is cinema, there is a certain beauty to seeing a film in a theatre full of film lovers. It is not only the images on screen, but the anticipation of what we are about to experience. Unfortunately, in the big chain theatres, most of this beauty has been stripped away. While you can still experience a great crowd in a film like Avatar, for the most part, the real film lovers seem to skip these theatres for another, smaller option.

If you are lucky your city or town will have at least one art house cinema. Now, of course, they will all differ in quality, but they will all attract the same crowd, film lovers. It is a completely different feeling walking into a single screen theatre that is packed full of people who are there for the love of film and not because it is a time waster with air conditioning.

For years, I only occasionally returned to the Bytowne. However, over the last several months I have become a frequent visitor to the local art house theatres in Ottawa. Whether it be a recent release of a indie film or foreign film, Lebanon, or a restored classic, The Seven Samurai, each experience is enjoyable and memorable. Even when a film is less than great, just being in a theatre full of people who share the same passion as you is well worth the price of admission.

Even with more and more films getting simultaneous theatrical and home releases, the big chains will never completely die down. Sure, maybe some will close but the general film audience will continue to see the blockbusters and in the end, that is all that matters to those big companies. However, the smaller art house theatres are the ones who deserve our support, and it isn’t a chore either. While I can’t speak for other cities, in Ottawa alone, we have two art house theatres; the Mayfair run by cult director Lee Demarbre and the Bytowne Cinema. Both cater to very different viewership yet both rely on the film fan’s love of the medium.

It is up to us, the fans, to enjoy the great opportunities that these cinemas give us, often showing older films that we may never get the chance to see on the big screen again. It may be a longer bus ride or drive to the local art house cinema, but the experience that can be had is far better than any multiplex can give.

I can only remember a handful of film going experiences I’ve had in the multiplexes, yet I remember every single experience I have had at an art house cinema. The energy, the crowd and the films played at these screens allow for an experience that is hard to duplicate. As a film fan, it is hard to be sufficiently appreciative that these theatres exist, and I won’t stop using these opportunities to have great filmgoing experiences.

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4 Responses to Joy of the Art House Cinema

  1. Tyler says:

    I am fortunate to live in a city with many smaller, independent, second-run and art-house theatres. As I am not much of a blockbuster fellow, the only films I see in larger multi-plexes are those to which I was dragged by friends or by my own sense of trashy-film digestion.

    My favorite local cinema is a single-screen affair located within the local art museum. The films of the highest caliber are shown there, but the attendance at each screening is usually less than twenty. Those people laugh at the same things I do, and clap at the same things I do, and the films I view there are seen in an environment specifically created to foster appreciation and adoration of the art of cinema.

    Having lived in small towns wherein not even a single movie screen existed, I feel great sympathy for those who do not have access to good art films. It is great that cinephiles these days have many more options than I did when I was growing up way back in the Twentieth Century. It’s a good time for film-lovers in the biggest of cities or the smallest of burghs.

    • It is a great feeling being in a theatre where the audience is in synch. When I saw A Serious Man at the local art house cinema I was worried people wouldn’t get it, or not enjoy it. I was completely wrong and found the entire audience laughing hysterically throughout the entire showing. One of my favourite films, as well as showings.

      I have started to just refuse to see films I don’t want to if my friends are trying to drag me. I find too often they want to see something because they can’t be bothered to do anything else. So now I just refuse…after having to sit through Number 23 and The Hitcher…never again!

  2. filmgeek says:

    “For those whose main passion in life is cinema, there is a certain beauty to seeing a film in a theatre full of film lovers. It is not only the images on screen, but the anticipation of what we are about to experience. Unfortunately, in the big chain theatres, most of this beauty has been stripped away. While you can still experience a great crowd in a film like Avatar, for the most part, the real film lovers seem to skip these theatres for another, smaller option.”

    Couldn’t agree more. I live in a small, seaside town with one tiny cinema that shows primarily mainstream films. However, I’m on the committee of my local film society which means I get to help select the indie/foreign films that we show – one film a week. It is during these screenings that the cinema is quiet during the film but actually buzzing with excitement before and after the film. It really is just as much about the experience

    • “It is during these screenings that the cinema is quiet during the film but actually buzzing with excitement before and after the film.”

      This is how it should be! I love that feeling. This is also when strangers start talking to each other for no reason other than they are excited about film!

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