City of Hope

Indies need profits, too -- and here's one formula that seems to work

Elephantine, debt-laden chains dominate motion picture exhibition, and their overriding cash needs wring every quarter -- and most of the fun -- out of moviegoing. (Now playing: commercials before the feature.) Independent cinemas also need to clear a profit, of course, but they're typically run by people who adore movies, theaters, or both. At the second-run Parkway Theater in Oakland, owners Catherine and Kyle Fischer have hatched a recipe for success with a speak-easy concept that includes pizza and a pint -- and which won the endorsement of the El Cerrito City Council two weeks ago. The city's Redevelopment Agency is putting up at least $2 million to renovate the '30s-era Cerrito Theatre on San Pablo Avenue, now a furniture store, with the Fischers inking a long-term lease to operate the movie house.

Will Viharo, who programs the Parkway and will assume the same duties at the Cerrito when it opens in late 2004, says that the renovated theater will be twinned. He predicts that the midnight Saturday shows of The Rocky Horror Picture Show will move to the new theater, with the neighborhood's comparatively affluent and culturally attuned residents influencing other programming decisions. However, Viharo wants to install two projectors, permitting reel changeovers rather than splicing and allowing the Cerrito to show archival prints (which the Parkway cannot). "We want a state-of-the-art projection booth in a homey, community, old-fashioned theater," he declares. Incidentally, Viharo confided that the Fischers have already picked their next theater, although those expansion plans will have to wait until the Cerrito is up and running.

WeekendWhen French filmmaker Claire Denis saw Wim Wenders watching the video monitor instead of the actors on the set of his Faraway, So Close!, she thought, "Maybe I should try it, because if Wim is doing it, I'm sure it has some interest." After a single scene in Nénette et Boni (1996), though, she reverted to her usual approach, which she's still using for her latest release, Friday Night. "Let's say it's an attraction between a man and a woman," she says, describing its pared-down plot, an ephemeral study of a woman at loose ends the night before she moves in with her boyfriend. "I'm in the middle of them. I'm in the bed with them. I'm eating pizza with them. I don't want to be outside with the crew. I want to be there. I want to be in love with him. I want to be in love with her." Denis takes a breath and smiles. "I have to say, sometimes I believe I am probably a very childish person, because I trust in film in a very childish way. I trust that you don't need extra explanation."

Denis, who was here for the S.F. International Film Festival screenings of Friday Night, recoiled at the suggestion that her picture is a valentine to the City of Light. "Each time I move, although I'm not attached to Paris, I have almost a nervous breakdown, because suddenly I start missing one thing. Maybe it's a bar, maybe it's the view. I'm completely depressed, and it takes me a few months to forget what I missed, which is nothing, you know." Denis pauses, then laughs. "I'm not in love with Paris, that's for sure. I'm not the type of person in love with cities. I'm in love with people more." Friday Night opens, uh, Friday night at the Lumiere.

When Worlds CollideThe Weather Underground was acquired by Shadow Distribution, which opens the Bay Area documentary of the year June 4 at the Film Forum in Manhattan -- in time for Flag Day -- and July 25 here at the Castro. The entry deadline for next year's documentary Oscar is Sept. 2, fueling the unusually rapid rollout of both this film and the Sundance prize-winner Capturing the Friedmans (coming June 13). ... The groundbreaking Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who bewitched SFIFF audiences with his second feature, Blissfully Yours, will be an artist-in-residence next year at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. His one-hour re-enactment of Thai soap operas, Haunted Houses, highlights YBCA's daytime screening program through July 13.

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