Move over, Manhattan — Brooklyn is steadily turning into the best place to watch movies in New York City.
Brooklyn's rising status as the epicenter of New York Cool is nothing new, but it has taken time to meet the needs of the borough's devout moviegoers, whose discerning tastes remain largely satisfied by Manhattan's long-established list of venues including Film Forum, Anthology and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
However, that has finally started to change with a series of newer options — several of which have recently opened in Williamsburg, the nexus of Brooklyn's funky cultural elite — providing the borough with a diverse selection of alternative cinema tailor-made for the predominantly young, hip moviegoers in the area.
Programming choices at these venues means that more low-budget productions made on the fringes of American cinema can finding audiences in Brooklyn, while residents no longer must contend with finicky subway lines to meet their movie needs. More significantly, these new theaters are incredibly distinct in terms of their programming strategies and business models, reflecting a larger urgency in an age when the basic theatrical model has grown increasingly outmoded.
The two venues that recently celebrated their arrivals speak to these needs. Williamsburg's Videology has served its neighborhood as a rental store for nine years, but will now show week-long features and other programs in its newly designed screening area, which is complemented by a bar out front. The entire rental catalogue has been moved to the basement, but remains available to patrons.
Meanwhile, Dumbo's reRun Gastropub Theater, which officially launched in 2010, just celebrated its new partnership with IFP, the non-profit independent film organization that shares a building with the venue.
Both Videology and reRun aim to provide significant exposure for sleeper hits from the film-festival circuit while also tapping into their other missions: In the case of Videology, screenings at the 35-seat venue can be used to instigate interest in the rental catalogue, while IFP's programming taps into the organization's other initiatives in the independent film world. Regardless of their motives, the venues further the perception that Brooklyn's theatrical scene is approaching the variety available in Manhattan.
"I think of it like the West Village," said Andrew Miller, who has already begun programming Videology's lineup along with filmmaker Zach Clark. Miller singles out the lower Manhattan neighrborhood's trifecta of the Angelika Cinema, Anthology Film Archives and Film Forum, which is mirrored in the Williamsburg's own trio of theaters: On Bedford Avenue, microcinema Spectacle shows the most outré selections, filling the Anthology slot, while three-screen arthouse Nitehawk Cinema shows more conventional specialty fare in tune with the Angelika. Videology's choices fall more in line with the discerning taste at Film Forum, where there's a combination of first-run features and retrospectives.
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"I'm hoping more than anything that we're going to complement each other," said Videology co-owner Wendy Chamberlain when asked about the competition. "Nitehawk gets a lot of mainstream movies. We can do more creative, experimental programming that they may not be able to do because they have to make sure what they do fills the seats. With only 35 seats, we don't have the same pressure to do things that appeal to a broad audience."
Chamberlain hopes the combination of ticketed screenings for new films and free screenings will instigate interest in the roughly 30,000 DVDs the store still maintains in its inventory. As business for rentals has waned, Chamberlain hasn't been able to significantly grow her collection in two years, but with a basement space that can hold at least twice as many DVDs, she hopes to change that. "This is a great way to introduce people to things they may not have even heard of," she said. "If something they see here sparks some interest, we can help them watch more."
For example, at the venue's first screening of "Holy Motors," which is currently screening at Videology for a weeklong run, audiences were treated to an advertisement for director Leos Carax's other films available in the Videology library. Chamberlain plans to relaunch the website in the coming weeks to further instigate rental interest. With much of the rental store staff now working as bartenders, the venue has already successfully transitioned into a more promising business model. "We're still excited about renting DVDs," Chamberlain said. "Part of doing this was the knowledge that it would help us continue to rent them."
Meanwhile, Videology's programmers have already worked out a programming calendar that extends into February 2013. This month, the venue will host two theatrical premieres for weeklong runs: "First Winter," the scrappy tale of cynical Brooklyn hipsters stuck on a yoga retreat during an apocalyptic disaster, and "New Jerusalem," the first feature from "The Comedy" director Rick Alverson, starring Will Oldham.
In addition to these releases, Videology's programmers have assembled an eccentric lineup of events to ensure the crowds keep coming, including "Twin Peaks Bingo" and a midnight retrospective of the bizarre genre films produced by '80s production house Full Moon Entertainment. "Right now, the agenda is doing a little bit of everything to see what stands out," said co-programmer Clark, pointing out that while they hope to show between two and three new releases each month, they remain flexible.
"We don't want to be restricted to just finding something to fill the space," he said. "If we have a free week, we'll just come up with other kinds of programming." Filmmakers, however, should take note: Whenever the venue deals directly with them, the revenue share comes down to a 50-50 split, meaning that a couple of sold-out shows can lead to several hundred dollars in profit.
IFP's arrangement with reRun is somewhat more complicated. The organization acts as a middleman by setting aside part of its revenue share with reBar for filmmakers. However, a reRun slot offers filmmakers other benefits. As with Videology, the week-long run ensures a review in The New York Times and other major outlets. It also enables IFP to practice what they preach by helping filmmakers figure out distribution strategies that put them in control. "We've been teaching people for years now to think about how they want to present their films to the world," said Milton Tabbot, IFP's Senior Director of Programming. "They're not necessarily going to be getting all-rights deals. The fact that reRun was downstairs just seemed like a logical opportunity."
For the time being, IFP has agreed to program three out of every four weeks of each month during a six-month trial period. They have already begun to consolidate their resources with a series showcasing the names singled out for IFP publication Filmmaker magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film" set for the second week of December. reRun's programming began earlier this month with a weeklong run for the dance movie "Girl Walk // All Day" and continues with the South African drama "Otelo Burning." Jonathan Lisecki's New York comedy "Gayby" comes to the venue later this month.
"A lot of the relationships we have with our community of IFP members and the larger independent community is related to young, talented filmmakers who would really benefit from having a screen in New York and the audience to make a theatrical run viable," said Dan Schoenbrun, IFP's communications and programming coordinator, one of the venue's key programmers along with Filmmaker managing editor Nick Dawson. "We already have those relationships with people and know how to talk to the wider community about these films."
IFP is also considering submissions for reRun. IFP's website contains a form for filmmakers to send their films for consideration, with the only qualifications being a feature-length running time and a completion date within the last 18 months. Like the programming team at Videology, IFP's staff isn't concerned about other screening opportunities for filmmakers at the variety of venues now available to them. "We don't see it as competition at all," Tabbot said. "I think it's great for filmmakers to have more than one opportunity."
Brooklyn audiences may now feel the same way.