Indie films soon to find a new home on the Southside with Cine-Rama
There’s no place like home. Chattanooga has long been a city in between. For a film fan, that generally means seeing the same five to ten movies on multiple screens through the city. Right now, there are eleven screens showing Gods of Egypt in the greater Chattanooga area.
The most indie film available right now is The Witch, which was released at Sundance last year and has just now gained enough popularity for a major release. Chattanooga simply doesn’t appear to have a market for indie films, even though cities like Nashville, Atlanta, and Knoxville have them regularly.
There have been many noble attempts at solving this problem, the most successful of which is Mise En Scenesters, the film club that led directly to the development of the Chattanooga Film Festival. Make no mistake: things have gotten better for film fans in the Scenic City.
But now, after years of false starts, mitigating circumstances, and complications, Chattanooga is getting something it has needed since before I began writing about the film scene—an art house theater. Cine-Rama is opening in Chattanooga’s Southside by mid-April, and once again, it is due to the tireless efforts of the city’s biggest film fan Chris Dortch.
When MES first started as a collection of a few friends and interested parties in Dortch’s living room, there was no way of knowing what it might become. It expanded due to the leadership of Dortch and the love of good film in Chattanooga. I found it first in a warehouse near St. Elmo, watching a Christmas horror film on a white tarp while leaning on a post. It remains one of my favorite film experiences of all time.
According to Dortch, “Since MES started seven years ago, it’s been our goal to open an indie theater in Chattanooga.” That goal was put on hold, of course, because first Dortch had to create an immensely successful, exceptionally programmed film festival, drawing celebrities like Elijah Wood and Joe Bob Briggs. In other words, Dortch and company have been a little busy.
But good things come to those who wait, and in spite of a city that at times makes it very difficult for arts groups to gain any sort of foothold to provide an incredible service, Cine-Rama is taking up residence in the former Grocery Bar building.
Initially, the art house theater was meant to be housed within the newly renovated Arts Building, but according to the folks at Cine-Rama, “Construction became a challenge. We were honored to be offered a space in The Arts Building among so many leaders of Chattanooga’s arts and culture scene. We loved that building deeply, but after months of trying to wrap our heads around how to put a functioning theater space in there, we had to admit to ourselves that the space just wasn’t ideal for film presentation,” Dortch explains.
The Grocery Bar, on the other hand, was a disappointing follow-up to Enzo’s and given that Chattanoogans are flush with places to stuff their faces, an art house theater is a welcome change. The Cine-Rama boasts a 12,000 square foot space with 200 seats for film screenings, comedy events, and live music events. No longer will MES and its patrons be forced to wander the desert of high rents, arbitrary rules about what can and can’t be shown, and insufficient or uncomfortable seating.
Film fans can hope for an Alamo Drafthouse experience, complete with strict cell phone and talking policies, beer, and of course, the best film programming the city has ever seen. The Chattanooga Film Festival might be the best annual event in town, but the Cine-Rama hopes to make the fun last all year.
That said, the theater can only be successful if the people support it. The CFF has shown us that there is a thirst for film in Chattanooga. There were plenty of naysayers arguing against the event, claiming that it had no chance. The same will be true of Cine-Rama. Now is our one chance to prove to distributors and filmmakers that the audience is here, waiting to be quenched. If the people demand, it’s more than possible that the Grocery Bar will be just one step towards an even larger venue.
Of course, for Chris Dortch, the Cine-Rama is another notch in his belt for the betterment of Chattanooga film. “With two years of the Chattanooga Film Festival, and an amazing third year on the way, being able to stand in the Cine-Rama building is truly surreal. This theatre is something Chattanooga deserves, and we can’t wait until we can open the doors,” Dortch says.
I couldn’t agree more. The theater has been a long time coming. There’s never been a better time to support local film.