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March 28, 2003

Hard-to-find film alternatives
By Lindsey Kingston staff writer
March 28, 2003

With so many screenings of blockbusters such as "Bringing Down the House" and "Old School" at local theaters, customers have a long list of showtimes to choose from.

For movie enthusiasts hoping to see independent, art and foreign films, however, the challenge of finding area screenings is a much more daunting task. Although some major movieplexes devote limited theater space to these types of films, the smaller theaters and art houses that focus on independent cinema aren't easy to come by on the Treasure Coast.

"For the people who are looking to see the new (alternative) releases, we're kind of struggling," said Doris Heuerman, a Vero Beach film enthusiast. "The nearest venues to see those types of movies on a regular basis are down in West Palm or in Orlando at the Enzian (Theater). That's an hour and a half in each direction."

Heuerman and her husband, Robert, were once members of Off Center Cinema, a movie-watching group organized by the Vero Beach Museum of Art. The museum sponsored art films, which were shown at Indian River 24 AMC Theatres. The museum brought its film program back on-site last June, however, and now offers a film studies program throughout the year.

"I see the point of the museum, wanting to keep their film program on their site," said Heuerman. "But there were about 500 of us. You can't imagine how sad people were when this happened."

With the end of Off Center Cinema, many fewer alternative films were shown in the Vero Beach area. The Heuermans and many other former members organized to support Galaxy 12 Theaters, which opened in June after being closed for 2 1/2 years. The theater offered art and foreign films, as well as a handful of mainstream movies.

However, Galaxy closed in December while local movieplex AMC attracted large crowds of movie-goers. Ticket sales at other Treasure Coast independent theaters continue to lag or be inconsistent.

A tough market

"I don't believe that there is enough of a following outside of urban centers to make it easy to support (an art-film theater) full-time," said John Loesser, a Vero Beach resident who is the executive director of the Lyric Theatre in Stuart. "Most of the independent theaters have a lot of difficulty maintaining that kind of thing. Most art houses work in places where there are very strong student bases and a strong intellectual base, which is why they work in places like New York and Boston."

Loesser organizes film screenings at the Lyric, a 500-seat theater that also hosts stage performances. Recent film features have included "Last Orders," "Monsoon Wedding" and "Italian for Beginners." The combination of part-time cinema and part-time stage productions has been a successful one for the Lyric.

"We try not to play the blockbusters, or to make blockbusters out of the independent films," said Loesser. "There is certainly an audience for films that aren't the mainstream stuff."

The problem, said Loesser, is the audience may not be large enough in places such as Vero Beach to support a full-time theater devoted to alternative cinema. Major movieplexes like AMC may offer some art films, but they have a limited amount of screens. Profits are higher from popular movies than from independent film such as "Sunshine State."

"A lot of films may not be the most popular in the world, but they're interesting," said Loesser. "Many big theaters do art film, but it's very limited. We pick up the slack."

"One-stop shopping" and film fests

Camille Delgado, managing director at the Indian River 24 AMC Theatres, said the movieplex was developed to be a kind of "one-stop shopping" that included art and foreign films.

"Every film buyer tries to cater to the demographics of their theater," said Delgado. "There's a market (for art films) here, but the question is how big the market is."

Delgado said AMC is willing to take film requests from movie-goers, who have called her in the past to suggest alternative films. Some better-known art films, such as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "Frida" have found success at big movie theaters.

Showing alternative films can also be complicated if there are severely limited numbers of prints, said Delgado. Film distributors may only release a small number of copies, keeping in mind that some films will be more in demand than others. With a film like "Frida," its success came partly because movie theaters could get their hands on it.

Another option for movie lovers are film festivals, which highlight alternative cinema that may not ever get picked up by regular theaters. The Melbourne Independent Film Festival, for example, featured 67 films when it celebrated its fourth year in September.

"One of the interesting things about going to a film festival is that you can actually meet the directors, producers, actors and actresses," said Terry Cronin, a part-time filmmaker and festival founder.

As for alternative cinema on a regular basis, however, options remain limited. Without full-time theaters devoted to independent, art and foreign films, movie lovers have no choice but to plan well ahead before heading off to the theater.

- lindsey.kingston@scripps.com

Options for exploring alternative cinema on the Treasure Coast and in central Florida:

Vero Beach:

• The Vero Beach Museum of Art, 3001 Riverside Park Drive. The museum offers a variety of film programs, including a French film series beginning April 8. Included are: "Beau Travail," "Les Destinees," "The Gleaners and I," "It All Starts Today," "The Lady and the Duke," "My Mother’s Castle," "Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud," "Ponette," "Time Out," "Time Regained" and "Under the Sand." Film classes will be held for five consecutive Tuesdays, April 8 to May 6, at 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Tuition is $35 for each program. For more information or to enroll, call 231-0707.


• The Melbourne Independent Film Festival. This independent film festival, going into its fifth year, has been developing a reputation for quality independent work. Although organizers have not announced the dates of the 2003 festival, it probably will happen this fall. Last year’s event happened in mid-September at the Henegar Center for the Arts in Melbourne. Tickets were $7 for general admission and $30 for a VIP reception. For more information, check the Internet at (3boysproductions.com/home.htm).


• The Lyric Theatre, 59 SW Flagler Avenue. The Lyric sponsors an Art Cinema Series, with scheduled screenings held at 4 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $7 or ticket passes can be purchased at $50 for a set of 10. For information, call 286-7827 or visit the Web site at (www.lyrictheatre.com/cinema.html).


• The Enzian Theater, 1300 South Orlando Avenue. The Enzian is a well-known center for full-time alternative cinema, although it’s a bit of a drive. Tickets are $7.50 and $5 for matinees, with a reduced $4.50 admission rate for film society members. The Enzian also hosts the Florida Film Festival, which is still being organized for 2003. For more information, call the showtime hotline at (407) 629-0054 or visit the Web site at (www.enzian.org).


• The Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St. Again, it’s a drive, but it’s the place to go if you want to watch movies in an ornate 76-year-old theater. Tickets are $7 for adults, $6 for theater members and $5 for seniors, military, students and matinees. Group rates are available. For information, call the box office at (813) 274-8982 or visit the Web site at (www.tampatheatre.org).


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