WORDS BY ANDREW HRIP
Seeing the latest blockbuster movie at your local megaplex is a powerful experience. The sounds of gunfire and explosions rip through your eardrums, while your eyes stare at the dazzling visuals of the battle on the massive screen. The simultaneous engagement of the senses is palpable. There is, however, an equally compelling alternative. One which fleshes out facets of the human experience or sheds light on lesser-known stories through film. This is one of the goals at Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg.
Midtown Cinema primarily shows independent and foreign films which are not widely released among major theater chains in three theaters seating 50, 60 and 120 people. Midtown co-manager Adam Porter offered that independent movies strike up healthy discussion, challenge their audience to reconsider their preconceptions about its content and, perhaps most importantly, involve situations relatable to the audience. Porter also said independent movies are a good opportunity to further educate people about interest-peaking subjects. Putting certain components of a mainstream film into perspective, Porter commented, “The next Batman or Superman movie is a cool story and has some neat effects, but I don’t know what it’s like to leap buildings in a single bound. It’s not an experience I can share.”
Local, independent filmmakers also have the opportunity to showcase their work at Midtown Cinema. Speaking on Midtown’s importance to these filmmakers, Porter said, “We want to be that place where even if it’s uncomfortable, challenging, difficult, awkward, or weird, someone with a story to tell or point-of-view to express can feel comfortable and supported in that opinion and effort.” One such opportunity is “Central PA Open Screen,” which Midtown hosts each month. Another is the Harrisburg-Hershey Film Festival, during which films from local, national, and international markets are screened at Midtown.
Midtown Cinema hosts various events which employ a unique premise or cater to a relevant theme. The Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival, taking place at Midtown in May of each year, serves to show films to educate the Greater Harrisburg area about Jewish/Israeli culture. Midtown’s “Outdoor Film Series” sees patrons bring lawn chairs to watch a movie projected onto an inflatable screen in Midtown’s parking lot. At another event, dubbed “3rd in the Burg,” Midtown shows nostalgic films from the 1980s and 1990s on the third Friday of every month for three dollars per ticket. Midtown also shows film series during the year, such as those directed by Stanley Kubrick, and seasonal films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show near Halloween.
Gathr Films is a website that has joined forces with theaters, such as Midtown Cinema, to bring less widely released movies to these establishments. A single individual or organization, designated the “Movie Captain,” selects a film from Gathr Film’s catalogue which they would like shown. The “Movie Captain” also chooses a date, time, and theater for the showing. Then, it is the “Movie Captain’s” job to generate interest for the movie’s screening by word-of-mouth, social media, etc. so enough people will reserve tickets for the screening. If the required number of tickets reserved for the screening is met, the tickets are sold and the movie is shown.
According to Porter, Midtown Cinema fosters a pleasant ambiance valued by its patrons and staff. He added, “You’re in a community that cares about film and how powerful a medium it is for storytelling.” Midtown’s staff frequently addresses its patrons by first name in conversation ranging from their critique of a film to their satisfaction with a new snack being sold at the concession stand. Midtown allows patrons to bring in 32 ounce cans of beer or “crowlers” from next door Zeroday Brewing Co. to enjoy during their movie. Additionally, if patrons eat brunch on Sunday or dinner on Wednesday at nearby Note Bistro and Wine Bar, they can bring their receipt to Midtown that same day to enjoy a free movie.
Midtown Cinema originally opened as Acme Markets in 1940. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the building served as a blood bank under the ownership of Rite-Aid. Rite-Aid donated the building to a non-profit organization which, along with influence from the city of Harrisburg, officially started Midtown Cinema in 2001. In 2008, Lift Development purchased the theater and converted it into a for profit business.
A male patron noted Midtown Cinema’s diverse selection of films shown, and he also added, “They don’t charge you an arm and a leg for concessions.” Another male and a female patron both appreciated the proximity of Midtown to see quality movies; otherwise, they would be forced to travel to Philadelphia and Virginia, respectively.
According to Porter, Midtown’s biggest hurdle is “people putting on pants and committing to leaving the house.” Fellow cinephiles, let us put on some jeans, our favorite movie t-shirt and catch the next show.