It’s no secret that Chattanooga doesn’t always have access to critically acclaimed films with serious Oscar potential. At least, not until the films have generated a significant amount of buzz or made a large sum of money. Audiences here are in something of a dead zone. Chattanooga is situated between three major cities, cities that are able to reach wider audiences and pull in greater revenue for high-quality films. As a result, we get all the Michael Bay and Nicolas Cage movies we can handle, but films by Gus Van Sant or Darren Aronofsky may reach our theaters months after release—if at all.
Last year, the incredible Black Swan opened in Atlanta six to eight weeks before landing here. Of course, it opened in New York and Los Angeles two months before Atlanta. This puts Chattanooga movie buffs at a disadvantage when it comes to seeing the films that appeal to us most. My friend Bob is a diehard film connoisseur, one who as seen more movies that anyone else I know. The relative dryness of the local film market has forced him underground, into the dark, unethical, cavernous world of piracy.
“Often, I’ll see a movie long before it ever comes to Chattanooga, just because it’s the most cost-effective way to see the film,” says Bob. “But I would much rather see a movie in the theater. The lights, the sounds, and the experience: everything about seeing a movie in a theater is just better. Not being able to pause or rewind pulls you into a movie in ways that can’t be reproduced at home.”
Bob certainly isn’t alone; Chattanooga now boasts the fastest Internet speeds in the country, which makes downloading entire movies quick and simple. This doesn’t necessarily mean that movie pirates are cheap. Certainly, going to the movies is much more expensive than it has been in the past, but studies have shown that audiences are usually willing to pay the prices, even in a recession. There is something else at work. Studios are in a constant battle to keep control of their intellectual property, clinging to an outdated business model of DVD sales and rentals. The move towards streaming video is clear to everyone except Hollywood. However, movie aficionados will tell you that seeing a film in a dark theatre, with a full-size screen and an audience, is always preferable to a laptop. By limiting the availability of titles to smaller markets, studios are forcing consumers to resort to more viable, although illegal, methods of seeing the art they so strongly crave.
All is not lost however; The Chattanooga Arts and Education Council are again hosting their annual Fall Independent Film Series, which opened September 16 with the critically acclaimed Sarah’s Key. This program has been reaching out to Chattanooga film fans for more than 40 years, bridging the gap between independent film and our choice-starved citizenry. Program Director Laurel Eldridge, along with an all-volunteer committee, has been working tirelessly to bring quality films to Chattanooga.
“I am always amazed at the number of people who tell me that they drive two hours to see a movie, whether it’s to Atlanta, Nashville or Knoxville,” she says. The films aren’t just for the discerning enthusiast, however. Eldridge wants these films to “bring you out of your comfort zone,” and get the average filmgoer to “see a subtitled film or a documentary in the theater and discuss it with other community members.”
The AEC works with Carmike Cinemas to deliver these films in an increasingly competitive market.
“One of the growing challenges of this series is that the market is becoming more saturated with theaters booking independent films, but there are only so many films to go around,” says Eldridge. “We strive to bring as many current and critically acclaimed movies as possible, and although we can’t get every film on our list every time, the Film Series continues to fill a void and provide Chattanooga with more diverse options than a typical city of our size.” For $15, filmgoers can get the AEC Film Club Card, available online, which provides matinee prices for all evening shows at the Majestic 12 and discounts at restaurants like Bluewater Grille and 212 Market. The card even entitles filmgoers to discounts at the CSO.