Cine-Rama is a realized cinema dream a long time in the making
There’s something special that’s happened in Chattanooga. For years, films fans here have had their options limited to mainstream movies at Carmike theaters. It’s not a terrible problem for most movie goers, who see maybe three or four films a year, catching others when they show up on DVD or Netflix. Most people don’t care much for the experience of film. To them, a movie is a hassle, an expense, a cattle-like interaction with the public that they’d rather avoid save for special occasions and birthdays.
Most people don’t think about the differences between watching a film on your couch verses watching one in the theater. This is most immediately obvious with comedies. Laughter breeds laughter and seeing a comedy with an audience is a vastly different experience than seeing one alone. The enjoyment of a film is almost always enhanced by the presence of others. Even bad films can be made tolerable if seen with friends and strangers. It’s an experience like no other.
Chattanooga has a unique opportunity, one not afforded by many cities of its size, by the newly opened Cine-Rama. It is a place for strange film, for wonderful film, for niche and complicated storytelling that will not be found anywhere else. As with most new things in Chattanooga, this newly minted non-profit service for film fans has been hammered with criticism that is easily dismissed by the more rational among us, but can still damage a fledgling venue before it gets started.
Don’t be discouraged by online stupidity—instead, think about where film was in Chattanooga and where it is going.
The Cine-Rama has its roots in Mise En Scenesters, a film club started by Chris Dortch in his living room for friends who wanted to see certain types of film. My first experience with them was in a warehouse near St. Elmo, watching Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale projected on a sheet hanging from the ceiling. It remains one of my favorite movie going experiences, not just because of the quality of the film and the strange fun of the preshow reel, but because the atmosphere was so genuine.
MES grew and hosted more and more film experiences, finding a temporary home with the Barking Legs theater. Then, the founders of MES created the Chattanooga Film Festival, a truly exceptional southern film festival that gets better every year. Each of these steps has led film in Chattanooga out of the shadows of disparate non-profits bringing their own random independent films tailored specifically to one audience and issue to a fully functional theater where any and all types of film can be found.
Last week, during the height of Riverbend, the Cine-Rama showed The Saddest Music in the World, a comedy/musical from 2003 starring Isabella Rossellini and directed by Guy Maddin. This is unlike anything found at a Carmike theater. It’s an homage to silent film and the 1930s, a black and white yet richly colorful world that is as much style as it is substance. It’s not a comedy in the traditional sense of the word. It’s far more strange and beautiful than most films of the genre. There were only around ten people in the audience, which is understandable given the film itself and the timing of the screening. But Cine-Rama showed it because there are people in the city that want to see it.
Complaints surrounding the Cine-Rama have focused on things like the sound and selection. Some have complained that they were expecting an Alamo Drafthouse experience. But just as the Alamo Drafthouse didn’t open its doors in the form we see now, the Cine-Rama needs a chance to grow and develop with the support of film fans around the region.
The problems with the sound have now been addressed, according to Facebook posts, but given that I saw The Saddest Music in the World before the changes were made and didn’t experience anything overtly distracting, it seems to be that many of the complaints were largely unjustified.
I could complain that the couches were too comfortable and the cushions too deep so that my view of the screen was slightly obstructed by the couch in front of me but since I didn’t get up and move to rectify the situation (I really liked that couch) complaining would make me a bit of jerk.
If this town wants a theater like the Alamo Drafthouse, support the Cine-Rama, allow it to grow, patronize the hell out of it, and enjoy the fruit it brings. The Cine-Rama isn’t about making money—it’s about providing a space for film lovers to see film. I can’t think of anything better.