Last weekend I watched an interesting documentary called The Rep, which follows passionate film fans as they try to create a single-screen repertory cinema and keep it afloat.
The movie includes commentary from several notable filmmakers (John Waters, Kevin Smith, George A. Romero, Atom Egoyan) and serves as a reminder that, while some of us still appreciate the moviegoing experience, it's still very difficult to compete with multiplexes and the allure of at-home viewing.
In the spirit of The Rep, below are my six favorite independent/arthouse theaters in the country. As there are many I haven't been fortunate enough to visit, feel free to chime in with your own faves.
!. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (Austin). My visits to Austin are never complete without a stop at Alamo's Ritz theater. (A few years ago, I even moderated an event there, which was a thrill.) This theater franchise goes beyond your typical repertory cinema with events and premieres aplenty, along with regular appearances by filmmakers and actors. An Alamo theater is scheduled to open in Manhattan in 2014, with one in Brooklyn coming after that. Hooray!
2. Music Box Theatre (Chicago). Back when I lived in the Windy City, I spend a considerable amount of time at the Music Box, particularly when screenings included live musical performances. You haven't had a proper silent-movie experience until you've watched one accompanied by this theater's signature organ.
3. IFC Center (New York). Others may disagree, but this tops my list of favorite New York theaters with independent fare. Each time I go, I'm impressed by the well-behaved crowds and the seating, which frankly, could use improvement at many other arthouse cinemas in the city.
4. AFI Silver Theatre (Silver Spring, Md.). Located just outside Washington, D.C., the American Film Institute opened this beautiful theater in 2003. I visited many times while I lived in the nation's capital, particularly during the venue's outstanding documentary film festival, AFI Docs. (Once I also had champagne with David Lynch on AFI's roof, but that's another story.)
5. Gene Siskel Film Center (Chicago). Yes, Chicago really does know how to treat moviegoers, and the Gene Siskel Film Center is a venue the late film critic would've loved. I saw a lot of experimental fare here, as well as forgotten classics.
Honorable mention: I've been to several Landmark Theatres locations - there are 50 in the U.S. - and admire the chain's commitment to screening foreign, independent and hard-to-find movies.
So how do my picks line up with where the rest of the country sees indie fare? Out of curiosity, I asked the folks at Foursquare to compile the 10 most checked-in arthouse theaters in recent weeks. The results:
1. Sundance Kabuki Cinemas (San Francisco)
2. Angelika Film Center (New York)
3. Nitehawk Cinema (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
4. Angelika Film Center & Cafe (Dallas)
5. IFC Center (New York)
6. Castro Theater (San Francisco)
7. Somerville Theatre (Somerville, Mass.)
8. Music Box Theatre (Chicago)
9. Landmark's E Street Cinema (Washington, D.C.)
10. Gateway Film Center (Columbus, Ohio)
The Rep is now available via iTunes and on demand. Learn more about it at therepseries.com.
* The Foursquare data comes from total check-ins at U.S. indie theaters between Aug. 13-Sept. 12.