2007-03-29

Art house movies in downtown Athens

Athens Ciné
A new cultural center called Athens Ciné will bring a variety of cinematic features downtown. This new place featuring a bar, café, and movie theaters will show independent films, foreign films, classics, and documentaries. Espresso and wine will be served in front of the theaters in a relaxing space framed by the historic interior structure of the former Snow Tire retreading facility at 234 West Hancock Avenue. A large room called the Ciné Lab will serve as an art gallery and reception space.

Does it sound overwhelming? It is certainly intended to be more than a movie theater. One might question the viability of a makeshift effort to show art films, but here Brigitta Hangartner has invested her heart and soul (and lots of money) into a facility that will provide a permanent focal point for the area's film community. When I recently had the chance to take a tour and sit in on a meeting of new volunteers, I had the sense that I was watching history take place -- the instituting of a new Athens institution.

Historic preservation is a religion in the new cinema. Many of the existing features in the building have been preserved either to record history or for the sake of curiosity. For instance, you will know the place is closed if the garage door is pulled down in front of the box office! An enlarged print of a tire tread is preserved in the entryway. Inside you will have a clear view of the arched roof common to many of our older local structures. There is a tin ceiling and skylights. Of course, the old surfaces have been cleaned and repainted; the brick and old paint is still visible in the projection booths, but a sealant has been applied to keep paint flakes off the film. Modern features have been added, though, such as the concession counter. You know you're in the right kind of place when it has a butter dispenser and an espresso machine! This main space is conducive to conversation with a few tables and a banquette installation from Didi Dunphy, a designer known for a "playground" style.

I mentioned the volunteer meeting. (We're talking about people helping the cinema, not Tennessee.) The Ciné is looking for volunteers to serve as ushers or event facilitators or to even help with promotions. This is an artistic project that benefits from volunteers; it was even partially funded by a grant but is not exactly classified as a nonprofit operation. There will be a paid staff to operate the projectors, box office, and concession counter, but it will depend on the film and art community to operate. Contact Ciné if you are interested in volunteering.

The two theaters were built new as additions to the building, and it was fortuitous that the ground already sloped downward in the rear. One theater, trimmed in blue, has 135 seats and a stage in the front; it is served by two 35 mm projectors. The teal theater has 105 seats and is served by a 35 mm projector and a digital projector; it can be rented for private occasions showing DVD or computer-based presentations. Acoustic features were given special attention: the walls and ceiling are fitted with acoustic tile, and the wall between the theaters was built to a strategic height above the roof.

A lot of people experienced in the arts, film, and academica are running the show. Film selections will be diverse but meaningful, perhaps to be introduced by professors or the filmmakers themselves. The opening schedule is not finalized, but the cinema is set to open on April 2. Expect a big schedule covering weekends and weekdays with matinees, evening shows, and maybe midnight shows.

By the way, a restaurant will occupy the space in the front of the building in the near future.

Background reading from the Flagpole:

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