DESPITE boasting an internationally-known annual film festival and at least three community-based film societies, Savannah has never enjoyed a dedicated, full-time art-house cinema.
Over the past several years, local venues of varying sizes —ranging from the 60-seat Sentient Bean Coffeehouse, to the 200-seat auditorium of the Jepson Center for The Arts, and the 1,000+ Lucas and Trustees Theaters— have all played host to one-night-only screenings of foreign, independent, and “psychotronic” movies, with varying degrees of success. However, by and large, corporate multiplexes in our market have routinely ignored even the most high-profile niche-oriented features.
While it is unlikely that tendency toward mainstream fare will be supplanted anytime soon by a barrage of quirky, unpredictable films designed to appeal to diehard cinéastes as well as simply more adventurous viewers (the name of this game after all is selling as many tickets and concessions as possible), one national theater chain has quietly launched a seven-week local run of acclaimed smaller and indie titles.
Unfortunately, they’ve not done a very good job of promoting this endeavor.
Now in its second week, Carmike Cinemas’ Art Series provides locals and tourists alike with the rare opportunity to enjoy critically acclaimed, recently released art-house pictures on the big screen.
Stylistically, the series is a mixed bag. It includes a startling documentary on the U.S. Military’s scandalous behavior in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, a dramatization of an infamous London murder case, a candid memoir of a son coming to grips with his father’s terminal illness, a Norwegian film dealing with the difficult relationship between two young, aspiring novelists, a portrait of a disillusioned female Bangaldeshi immigrant in 1980s England, a surreal homage to cult director Guy Maddin’s hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and a romantic comedy about two lonely people desperate not to spend New Year’s Eve alone.
Hardly the type of motion-picture choices film-goers in Savannah are used to wading through!
Stephen Karcher, Complex Manager of the Carmike 10 (on Stephenson Ave.), says neither he, nor his counterpart at Carmike’s Wynnsong 11 (by Savannah Mall) had any hand in choosing which films would be included in this under-the-radar experiment in broadening our local cinematic horizons. He says he knows of no other city in the country that is being afforded this opportunity by his company.
“I’ve heard grumblings about this sort of thing for maybe a month or two,” he explains. “And I know this had a lot to do with the company seeing a great potential in reaching local film students.”
“The program has changed a bit since it was first launched,” he continues. “At first it was just meant to be at the Carmike 10, but now it’s been split up and both of our Savannah theaters are sharing the series. We’ll alternate the features each week.”
The inaugural title, Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris’ revealing investigation into the twisted web of deceit and denial that led to the shocking Abu Ghraib “torture photos” scandal of 2004, played for a solid week at the Wynnsong with no fanfare whatsoever. Not surprisingly, Complex Manager Michael Pimentel says that hardly anyone attended the 20-plus showings.------------------------- Here's the trailer for When Did You Last See Your Father?, one of the film's in this Art Series: -------------------------
“We had it in our smallest auditorium,” he says. “It holds 77 people, and business was bad all week long.”
However, he assumed such a film would draw meager crowds to his theater, at best.
“There were no expectations all the way out here,” says Pimentel. “Art films do much better on the other side of town, pretty much because of SCAD.”
Pimentel adds that while his corporate supervisors haven’t offered any indication of just how many tickets a series such as this would have to sell for the experiment to be repeated (“They don’t give us a percentage.”), he notes, “If the series does better business at our place on Stephenson, it’ll remain there.”
Yet, despite the prevailing wisdom that says folks on the Southside are — by and large— not interested in supporting such unique movies, when pressed, Pimentel admits he often gets requests for such programming options. “Definitely,” he says. “All the time.”
So, where were all those people this past week?
“Exactly,” he replies, with a confused laugh.
Karcher laments the fact that word seems not to have spread widely among local film lovers that such a dazzling selection of out-of-the-ordinary movies are currently being screened several times a day for almost two months solid, but points to his “limited time and budget” for promotion, which so far has resulted mostly in a few full-color flyers detailing the series being posted around town.
“I can only do so many things,” he explains, adding, “At this point, the company is just testing the waters.”
Pimentel notes that trailers for these Art Series selections have been running before some of the other movies currently showing at both Carmike locations, but says that films with less mainstream appeal and more nuanced subject matter can be tricky to promote.
“ It’s hard to sell a movie unless you know what it’s about.”
Whether by design or not, rather than dwell on the finer selling points and unique merits of each individual picture, Karcher seems to find it easier to simply pitch the entire series as a whole — which actually might not be such a bad idea.
“I hear these films are supposed to be excellent,” he enthuses. “They look very intriguing. They’re a great break from the regular summer action films that everyone is used to, and it’s a good way to come together, see a movie and hopefully have a great discussion about it.”------------------------- Here's the trailer for Brick Lane, one of the film's in this Art Series: -------------------------
And, he stresses, while there are no guarantees that Carmike will continue along with promotions of this sort in Savannah, one thing is for certain: if this series is a flop, it’s hard to imagine that they would.
“Just like anything else, the more successful it is, the more possibility there is of something returning.”
“The Carmike company is now really reaching out, trying to show what we call ‘alternative content’. Granted, these are just films, but we’d love to be able to showcase other sorts of media in our theaters, like digital cinema, 3-D movies, sporting events, double features, things like that.”
To that end, Pimentel notes that at his 11-screen Wynnsong complex, they’re currently running a summertime series of free, Saturday morning Kids’ Shows, and starting in October, every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm, they’ll show older horror flicks (such as the original Friday The 13th, My Bloody Valentine and The Exorcist) using digital technology.------------------------- Here's the trailer for My Winnipeg, one of the film's in this Art Series: -------------------------
Admission to these shockers will be only $5, and to help start a buzz, he’ll be running ads on local radio, as well as passing out handbills.
Pimentel has high hopes these fright films will draw decent crowds — even at his location near the Southernmost part of town.
“I believe Carmike may be doing (this October series) only in Savannah as well,” he says. “I don’t know why, but this town draws a big horror crowd. Maybe because there’s so many young people.”------------------------- Here's the trailer for In Search of A Midnight Kiss, one of the film's in this Art Series: -------------------------
In the end, though, Karcher hopes this trial run of Carmike’s Art Series will catch on in the coming weeks, and theorizes that even if it does not, that may not automatically sound the death knell for films of this size and scope playing our market.
“Regardless of whether or not this is successful, the desire is always there,” he claims. “We hope Savannah locals will come and support these great films, and hopefully we can bring a series like this back again.”
Carmike Cinemas’ 2008 Art Series
Titles: Standard Operating Procedure, When Did You Last See Your Father?, Savage Grace, Reprise, Brick Lane, My Winnipeg, In Search of a Midnight Kiss
When: Sept. 5 - Oct. 23
Where: Carmike 10 (Stephenson Ave.) & Wynnsong 11 Theaters (Shawnee St.)
Cost: Varies with show times
Info: 353-8683 (Carmike 10), 920-3994 (Wynnsong 11)