Photo Credit: Caroline Elliott
Ciné, Athens’ independent arthouse theater, recently debuted a new program dubbed First Take. The program invites local writers with an established following to preview upcoming films with Ciné projectionists.
According to Richard Neupert, a member of the Ciné board of directors and coordinator of film Studies at UGA, and Pamela Kohn, executive director of Ciné, First Take will allow writers “to engage with movies of their choice from our lineup and provide their own, personal reviews.”
First Take aims to increase community involvement, as writers share their thoughts on Ciné’s featured films with local readers, more closely tying Ciné to its Athens audience. First Take will also allow Ciné’s mission to be shared with an even wider audience in Athens and elsewhere.
Ciné’s decision to screen classic films for First Take is especially interesting. For one, these films may help shape readers’ thoughts on a recent release. A revisit of 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front could provide a new perspective on Sam Mendes’ new war film 1917, which follows two young soldiers along the front lines of World War I. Screening a classic film may also encourage First Take writers and their readers to re-contextualize the themes of an older film with our modern social and political climate.
A program like First Take is especially exciting in today’s cinematic landscape. In an era where local multiplex theaters like Beechwood and University 16 are dominated by multimillion-dollar blockbuster fare, the risk and adventure associated with independent film is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Those multiplexes and Ciné are not necessarily in direct competition with one another. Neupert says Ciné sees itself not as a rival of the multiplex, but instead a key component of a “changing media marketplace.” Both multiplexes and arthouse theaters are essential in order to meet the needs of local audiences. While the larger chains are focused on getting butts in seats—to the point of some major distributors mandating that theaters reserve their largest auditoriums for films like Star Wars and Frozen 2—they are seldom eager to screen “riskier” fare, such as non-English language films, documentaries and classics. Ciné rushes to fill this void.
Ciné fills other niches, too. Streaming services are steadily gaining more critical attention. The Netflix films Marriage Story and The Irishman have garnered much traction during this awards season, with a whopping 24 Oscar nominations across as many categories. Yet the home theater experience can only come so close to a full-fledged exhibition.
Ciné also screens films that cinephiles cannot find anywhere else, including limited-run films that are not available for consumption at home, nor do they have showings at the multiplex. Recently, Ciné advertised showings of South Korean thriller Parasite as an “Athens exclusive,” since the award-winning film was not being shown at any other local theater.
However, there is some overlap. Sometimes a smaller-budget independent film has mass appeal. For instance, the pseudo-biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, in which Tom Hanks slips on the cozy canvas shoes of public television star Fred Rogers, enjoyed a run at Ciné and all of Athens’ multiplexes.
The pendulum swings both ways, as even the arthouse may screen the occasional blockbuster. Ciné recently screened Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which, given its astronomical budget and even larger audience, is the antithesis of Ciné’s usual feature.
Just as the arthouse theater seeks to screen popular films, the multiplexes sometimes showcase smaller-budget fare. AMC’s Artisan Films is the chain’s initiative to reserve theater space for independent films for an extended period of time so they are not crowded out by blockbusters. Notable entries include Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Honey Boy, both of which snagged showtimes at Ciné.
With First Take, Ciné hopes to stand out in a crowded film marketplace by inviting local voices to contribute to the conversation surrounding the next cinematic masterpiece, as the theater’s marquee has proven time and again to be a dowsing rod for films that will dominate the national conversation or, at the very least, expose its audience to something new.
Above all, says Kohn, “[t]hese First Take voices may call attention to lesser known and less advertised foreign, classic and independent movies, reaching and motivating new audiences who may otherwise be unaware of our rotating schedule of compelling films and lively events.”
To keep up to date with those events and First Take, check out athenscine.com.