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Cinema Paradiso

by Karen Martin

February 5,2006

Thanks to Valentine’s Day, February is the month of love – and an appropriate time, perhaps, to confess a brief love affair. It happened during a recent business trip, caught me completely unaware, and took my breath away. It fulfilled a need I wasn’t aware that I had, and ended all too quickly when I returned home.

My husband is okay with me airing this dirty laundry. He understands, you see, my passion for independent film.

Here’s the background: I was in Indianapolis for couple of business calls. Wintry weather forced a change in my schedule. My lunch appointment was pushed back to later that afternoon. What, I wondered, was I going to do for three hours in a snowy, unfamiliar city?

A small voice in my head piped up: “Take yourself to a movie!”

Please understand my excitement. I have infant twins. Given the amount of junk that comes out of Hollywood, and the very real possibility we’ll fall asleep in a comfortable, darkened movie theatre, we rarely consider going to a movie.

(Thank heavens for the Public Library of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, which has a terrific selection of movies on VHS and DVD. We regularly “order” a film online and then pick it up, free of charge, at the library branch two blocks from our house. If we fall asleep on our selection of the week, we simply rewind and start again.)

But I digress. So there I am in Indianapolis, overjoyed by the prospect of seeing a film on a big screen, the way nature intended. Using the magic of the Internet, I learn that Capote is showing at a local art-film cinema. My mapping software points the way.

I keep my eyes peeled through the swirling snow for what I’m assuming will be a smallish cinema, something akin to the Manor. Imagine my shock when tasteful neon lights reading “Keystone Art Cinema” greet me from the side of the Fashion Mall, home to such high-end stores as Parisian, Coach and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Inside, I gasp. Audibly. At the top of the escalator is a multi-plex cinema that’s every bit as bright and bustling as those in the Charlotte suburbs. The attached café offers live music on weekends and a full-service bar that encourages guests to take their beverages into the cinema. I am overjoyed as I sink into the plush stadium seating, watching previews for Breakfast on Pluto, The World’s Fastest Indian and TransAmerica.

Afterwards, I sigh: Why don’t we have something like this in Charlotte?

Sure, our area cinemas are making some effort to provide indie films, but showings are scattered. Only one cinema dared to show Brokeback Mountain until it received eight Oscar nominations. TransAmerica played at only one cinema, as did Woody Allen’s highly-regarded Match Point – at a different cinema. The risk, of course, is that one travels to one of these cinemas, and the feature is sold out. One then thinks, “Well, should I buy tickets to Hoodwinked, or just go home?’

Wouldn’t it be terrific to have a place where independent thought, manifest in film, is celebrated? Where we could choose from a number of art-film titles, agonizing over which to see first?

For weeks I pouted like this until a wise friend gently reminded me that an art-film cinema is, indeed, in Charlotte’s future. The exciting news broke this time last year, when I was overwhelmed with the twins’ impending birth (my memory is spotty for an approximate 12-week stretch of 2005).

Charlotte-based Consolidated Theatres -- the folks who run the cinemas at the Park Road Shopping Center, the Arboretum and Phillips Place -- will manage a five-screen, 990-seat art-film cinema at Ballantyne Village, complete with reserved seating and a concession stand featuring wine and sushi. The exact opening date hasn’t been nailed down, but the developer tells me it’s scheduled for sometime in early March.

Soon we’ll demonstrate that Charlotte values more than mass-produced, run-of-the-mill entertainment. One of my fantasies is within reach after all (although Mapquest tells me I’ll have to travel 40 miles to fulfill it). Now for my next fantasy: a similar cinema in the northern part of the county. A girl can dream, can’t she?

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