Arts & Culture Opinion

Where Are All the Non-Mainstream Films in Maplewood & South Orange?

 

I’m a fan of non-mainstream cinema. As a South Orange resident attending such films typically requires a road trip of anywhere from 20 minutes (Bow Tie Cinemas Claridge, Montclair) to an hour (Angelika Film Center, Landmark Sunshine, IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza, New York City).

But it’s actually more disturbing than that. A non-mainstream film doesn’t find its way to New Jersey until at least two weeks and operatively four weeks after its New York City debut and invariably opens in Montclair before opening anywhere else in the state. Consequently, South Orange, Maplewood and Millburn residents don’t have an opportunity to see the film locally until six to eight weeks after the New York City release date causing plenty to go to either New York City or Montclair.

In 2014, I went to the movies twelve times. Of those (twelve times), eight were to theaters located outside of South Orange—four in New York City and four in a combination of Montclair, Maplewood and Millburn. I recently saw The Imitation Game at Maplewood Theaters and Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) at Bow Tie Millburn Cinemas. Both films, which received multiple Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and citations from various critics’ circles, had been playing in New York City for two months and in Montclair for at least one month before opening in this area.

I would understand the logic behind releasing non-mainstream films in Montclair before South Orange, Maplewood and Millburn if those films didn’t find much of an audience in this community. But non-mainstream films tend to do disproportionately better in this community (than mainstream films) as a result of the support from a film literate and enthusiastic population. A case in point is Birdman, which first opened in New Jersey at Bow Tie Cinemas Clairidge, Montclair on November 14, 2014 and is still playing in ten cinemas across the state, including Millburn. If there is such a demand for non-mainstream films in this area, why aren’t any theaters programming them in the manner the Claridge does?

When speaking of per screen averages, non-mainstream films equal or exceed mainstream films. Back when Maleficent was released in May ‘14, it was averaging about $17,000 per screen, while The Grand Budapest Hotel was averaging $202,000 per screen. Granted, The Grand Budapest Hotel was only playing on four screens nationwide during its limited release, but nonetheless it does prove non-mainstream films are capable of generating the kind of boffo box office results the industry associates with mainstream films.

This brings me to Reel Talk, a series of non-mainstream films co-sponsored by and to be held at Bow Tie Cinemas South Orange. It’s certainly an indication of Bow Tie’s interest in developing a non-mainstream policy in South Orange.

The eight-week series, which begins Sunday March 15, will preview eight of the most anticipated films of the season, followed by a Q&A/discussion hosted by a distinguished guest.

“I want to create an element of surprise,” Andy Myers, the Reel Talk founder, said on why he won’t reveal the films in advance of each screening.

“These are all original, provocative and in many instances ground-breaking films that could move the needle, so to speak. Plenty of film enthusiasts who frequent the Claridge Montclair or Angelika New York or Lincoln Plaza New York don’t necessarily know in advance what they’re going to see. The nature of Reel Talk mirrors that relationship between a film-goer and his or her favorite art theater,” Myers said.

There’s a passion for the content and a leap of faith in the programming, which is unique to non-mainstream cinema.

Ryan Myers is an enthusiastic Ithaca College journalism graduate, who also studied filmmaking and scriptwriting. 

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