Independent theaters

“People have a genuine need and thirst for this type of experience.” Tom Ranieri is the owner and operator of the independently run Cinema 21, one of the oldest operating theaters in Portland. After a company from Seattle, which owned Cinema 21 along with other local theaters, closed it down, Ranieri took up the lease. The theater had been open since 1926.

Portland has a rich history of supporting these theaters. The desire to see a feature film or documentary in settings away from sterile, corporate giants like Regal Cinemas is very common among Portland filmgoers. And often, theaters like Cinema 21 take magnificent risks that the larger chains, which use these smaller theaters as “testing grounds,” refuse to take.

“It goes both ways,” said Richard Beer, Artistic Director for the Hollywood Theater. “We bring films in we expect to have little turnout for, and every evening the theater is full, and others we expect to take off, backed by a lot of local press and rave reviews, sometimes only bring in a small number of people.”

The Hollywood Theater, under Beer’s direction, has been a nonprofit organization since 1997. It showcases foreign releases, live bands, events such as the recent “48 Hour Film Project” and an array of old and new releases projected in digital and 35mm formats.

“It’s really like being a mutt,” Beer said. “We try to juggle all of these things, balancing the commercial aspect to have a chance to see all of these small films on the big screen.”

“No one wants to go from Atlanta to New York to Chicago to Portland and have the same experience. When you walk into a large theater chain you feel like you are being processed,” Ranieri said.

Running a theater with a minimal number of screens takes a lot, especially in an industry dominated by big corporations. The larger chains have stronger clout with the distribution companies that purchase and then divvy the prints to theaters around the country. “But having one screen,” Ranieri said, “is more like traditional programming instead of a product.”

Even the independent distribution companies, over time, get bought, or attached to larger corporations like Disney, which crunch the numbers and make decisions based on big-business needs. But thanks to the continuing interest and appreciation for places like Cinema 21, Hollywood Theater and all of the other independent theater houses in town, we all have a chance to see and enjoy films without having the feeling of being processed.

Both the Hollywood and Cinema 21 have special events coming up at the end of October. Both are on Oct. 29, so pick and choose.

Cinema 21 will be hosting an afternoon/evening with actor and activist Woody Harrelson and a special screening of his film “Going Further.” People will have a chance to hear Harrelson speak about the film, which deals with a bus trip he made from Seattle to Los Angeles promoting sustainable living.

The Hollywood is hosting a week long “50 years of Godzilla” from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3, which will include a special premier of the new Godzilla X-Box game and a chance to take part in a symposium with the game designers, as well as contests and games, a giant cake and a giant card to Godzilla to be autographed by everyone who attends.

At the Northwest Film Center, an Ingmar Bergman retrospective and the annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, are already underway at the Guild Theater and Whitsell Auditorium.