On classics, swedes, and the independent theater experience

Morgan White's The Rep, via The Rep Series.
Morgan White’s The Rep, via The Rep Series.
In the Central Valley, the independent movie screen is still rolling. But all of these establishments, including the historic Tower Theatre, face the harsh realities of the times: more dependence on the latest digital advances, and an increasingly commercialized and unoriginal film industry, which churns out remakes and sequels galore.

To address the issues affecting the moviegoing experience, Filmworks will screen the documentary drama The Rep on Aug. 18. Afterward, board members will lead small-group discussions about the preservation of independent cinema in Fresno.

One of my first assignments as the Filmworks summer intern was a blog post about Swede Fest 11, the Filmworks co-sponsored event showcasing community film creations. How could condensed, shoestring-budget versions of Hollywood films belong on a real movie screen? Weren’t these better suited to YouTube or a private screening at a friend’s house, to snicker in small groups at the homemade offerings?

Once I experienced Swede Fest myself, my assumptions vanished.

The Tower Theatre was packed and the crowd was lively. Among the many unusual creations was the “sweded” version of The Matrix from Dustin McLean. The effects were amusing and flat-out impressive, and the audience cheers confirmed it. Also of note, the “sweded” Devo music video for Whip It from Richard Rocha got big chuckles of surprise and was definitely another highlight. I realized something right there: Having this community event on an authentic movie screen in a real theater made all the difference.

We fed off of each other’s energy and reactions, and the atmosphere gave the filmmakers instant feedback on how their sweded creation was received. The applause wasn’t just because we were entertained. It was also a sense of pride that many of these creations were made locally, by friends and family and people in attendance. Having the movies screened at the Tower further enhanced the evening, adding a celebratory touch of class.

I’m also a fan of classic films, particularly works from directors like Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock, and anything with actor James Stewart. It was Filmworks’ short-lived classics series that convinced me to attend a movie at the Tower for the first time. I couldn’t pass up the chance to see personal favorites like Psycho and The Birds in 35mm, on the big screen and with an audience. And twice, I was charmed.

The Psycho screening in April 2011 was one of the most exciting moviegoing experiences I’ve ever been a part of. One audience member dressed up as Norman Bates’ mother — so completely unexpected and hilarious. Nostalgic and playful reactions were heard throughout the rows of the theater during the film, and even a few spirited and genuine gasps at the plot twists. Not bad for a suspense tale that’s more than 50 years old. To put it simply, the experience transported me to a time in film history I had always wished to visit.

I keep using the word “experience” intentionally. That is what film viewing ought to be about, a point that The Rep director Morgan White details in his recent interview with Filmworks for CMAC TV. One audience coming together for a unified purpose, and yet bringing their own interpretations and emotional responses to the material, is what the cinema experience ought to aspire to.

When the artistry takes front and center, and the need for a Hollywood-sized commercial return loosens up, the viewers receive a certain intimacy with the material and shared energy with their fellow filmgoers. So grab some snacks, maybe a beer, sit down with your neighbors, and enjoy a real show.

Andrew Veihmeyer earned his B.A. in communication from Fresno State. He is the Filmworks media relations and communication intern.