Since opening its doors in 2002, the Arts Council of the Valley (ACV) and its Court Square Theater (CST) have emerged as a dynamic force in the cultural, economic, and educational life of our community. This weekend (February 2-4, 2012) marks the return of Art House 201, the second annual film festival celebrating the visual and performing arts. The festival, held at Court Square Theater at 61 Graham Street in downtown Harrisonburg, will feature the films My Kid Could Paint That, Young at Heart, and A Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy, showing at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. each evening in a rotating schedule, with tickets available for $6 per film.
Art House 201 was created with a two-fold purpose. First, it is a celebration of the arts in its diverse forms. ACV believes the arts are foundational to a vibrant community and wants to encourage the public to consider the role of art in their lives. Second, this festival provides an opportunity to educate the community on the mission of CST. CST is an intimate art house that celebrates independent and foreign film as well as unique theater, music, and dance. Art House 201 features documentaries that highlight three key features in an art curriculum: graphic and visual art, music, and theater.
One thing I’ve heard many people wonder about is how we select the films we feature. The selection for choosing films for any part of our Independent/Foreign Film Series can be somewhat daunting. It usually involves searching for programming at least two months out, but this is often difficult in the film world for a number of reasons. Anything with wide release doesn’t usually fit our mission because we’re looking to expand the cultural vocabulary of the Valley by providing programming that our patrons wouldn’t be able to find in a mainstream theater.
I usually sift through the upcoming films for about three days, creating a list large enough (typically including eight films) to send to our booker. From those eight films, I can expect that half will simply be too close to their NYC/LA/Chicago runs to be available for us. Narrative films, those premiering at Sundance or Cannes, are often in high demand after their unveiling. Even those “independent” movie distribution venues such as Fox Searchlight will often only create a few prints for nationwide release.
For example, where a major release such as Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part 2 might see 3,000 prints made, even a larger independent producer may only have the funds to create thirty prints. For Melancholia, our current IFFS narrative selection, only fifteen prints exist. We are extremely fortunate to have one of those prints in the Valley, given how critically acclaimed this movie is. Our growing popularity as the Valley’s Art House helps us when I contact our booker, whose job it is to negotiate with the distributors.
With documentary films, many of them are so independent and niche-oriented that the production of even one print is outside of their producers’ price range. However, with digital technology, DVD production is relatively easy, and at Court Square Theater, we are happy to have the ability to display quality DVD projection. (Our projector also gives us the ability to serve as a movie rental venue for patrons who may want to host a birthday party or enjoy a classic on the big screen again.) Many documentaries do not even have the opportunity for theatrical release, and our programming may be the first time they’re on a big screen. Some documentaries also lend themselves into a natural grouping. These thematic groupings can have the added benefit of allowing a blend between strict premieres and appropriate recent documentaries.
In making the film selections for Art House 201, I had to keep in mind the purpose of the event as well as the potential challenges of film distribution that I outlined above. At the culmination of this process, we are now fortunate to have a strong series featuring the following films:
My Kid Could Paint That: This movie follows the early artistic career of Marla Olmstead, a young girl from a small New York town who gains fame first as a child prodigy painter of abstract art, and then becomes the subject of controversy concerning whether she truly completed the paintings herself or did so with her parents’ assistance and/or direction.
Young at Heart: Join the final weeks of rehearsal for the Young at Heart Chorus in Northampton, MA, whose average age is 81, and many of whom must overcome health adversities to participate. Although they have toured Europe and sang for royalty, this account focuses on preparing new songs, not an easy endeavor, for a concert in their home town, which succeeds in spite of several real heartbreaking events.
Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy: Experience Sicily alongside American actor John Turturro as he brings us along on his working vacation. This colorful, informative travelogue and a touching portrait of a gifted artist’s delight in embracing his family roots also explores the puppetry tradition and its high status in pre-cinematic entertainment.
If you’re planning to come out for one or all of these films, you may also be interested to know that we now have an ABC license and the ability to serve VA beers and (soon) wines for your enjoyment during our features.
As a nonprofit theater, we’re thankful for the support of our community and other organizations, as they help us to thrive. In particular, Art House 201 was made possible by the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
Noah McBrayer Jones is the Manager of Court Square Theater in downtown Harrisonburg.