Downtown’s Cinema Venues Reach Way Beyond the Multiplex

April 21, 2014

by James J. Jefferies

There are few better ways to escape the heat in Tucson than the air-conditioned confines of a darkened theater. The Old Pueblo has always been a robust movie-going town, with Downtown’s own historic Fox Tucson Theatre being a prime example of our humble city’s longtime embrace of cinema.

It's the equivalent of a experimental artistic one-room schoolhouse, and is a great little alternative for those who genuinely crave something different.

It’s the equivalent of an experimental visual one-room schoolhouse, and is a sweet little alternative for those who genuinely crave something different.

However, the Fox is not the only venue for catching classic Hollywood movies or underexposed wonders from the world of independent filmmaking. There are some other places where you can take in something unexpected and wonderful, far away from the well-worn multiplex path. Here’s a little breakdown of Downtown’s venues for catching a flick.

EXPLODED VIEW– Exploded View Gallery/Microcinema, at 197 E. Toole Ave, is the newest kid on the Downtown cinema block, and easily the most wildly unique of the bunch. “My wife and I had run a microcinema in San Francisco,” explained co-proprietor David Sherman, “that was just a really small space that seated about twenty. There hasn’t been much in the way of experimental visual arts here, and we felt that downtown was really ideal.”

The core idea here is for a flexible venue that can adapt to serve an intimate audience a variety of mediums that isn’t dependent on being a thriving bar or nightclub, and can loyally serve an audience with a genuine interest in experimental visual projects..

Always compelling, human, and just a little offbeat, The Screening Room is a great venue for taking in new and exciting works from independent filmmakers.

Always compelling, human, and just a little offbeat, The Screening Room is a great venue for taking in new and exciting works from independent filmmakers.

The result is an interesting mix of underexposed alternative cinema projects such as Lucy Raven’s China Town, which traced the process of mining copper from the open-pit mines of Nevada across the Pacific to the high-tech ore-processing facilities in China where it is eventually spun into shiny wire. All of which was presented with a jagged visual approach consisting of more than 7,000 photos that basically form a fifty-minute GIF, accompanied by the environmental ambient sound from each location.

It’s not for everyone, lest your movie habits primarily revolve around caped superhero epics with nine-figure budgets, but if you’re truly in the mood for something different, that challenges your assumptions about what the medium of cinema should be, give Exploded View a whirl. Unless otherwise noted, every show will set you back a five-spot, and quite often the screenings are attended by the artists themselves, which makes for a unique opportunity to engage them and dissect what you just took in. Get a load of Exploded View here.

THE SCREENING ROOM– Right now, as in, this very second, The Screening Room is in the midst of the second huge week of their banner yearly event, the gargantuan Arizona International Film Festival! They will be entering their second utterly stuffed week of screenings from more than thirty countries this weekend, many of which will be attended by the filmmakers themselves.

The venerable Fox Tucson Theatre, 84 years young this year, still hosting everything from silent classics accompanied by live orchestral music to student films to Pulp Fiction. That's hotter than the weather here.

The venerable Fox Tucson Theatre, 84 years young in 2014, still hosting everything from silent classics accompanied by live orchestral music to student films to Pulp Fiction. That’s hotter than the weather here.

It’s a wicked chance to steal a glimpse at some terrific ascendant talent and their excellent stories, as the Festival will run breathlessly through April 27th. Of course, The Screening Room, at 127 E. Congress, is open year-round, and regularly features terrific independent films that you may not otherwise have an opportunity to see. Check out the Arizona International Film Festival here, and The Screening Room’s Facebook page here.

THE FOX TUCSON THEATRE– When the legendary Fox Tucson Theatre reopened in December of 2005, it came about as an early beacon of hope that Downtown Tucson truly was poised for a revival. Almost a decade later, it’s nearly impossible to detail the number of changes and nearly $1 billion worth of investment that has occurred within shouting distance of this historic landmark since, but suffice it to say that the Fox has certainly played a role in this renewal, and continues to be a haven for a variety of live events, concerts, lecture series, and of course, films!

Every year, in mid-May, the Fox is host to the University of Arizona’s Bachelor in Fine Arts senior thesis film screening, better known as I Dream In Widescreen. This is a really fun event given the celebratory atmosphere as it is the culmination of two-and-a-half years of work for the seniors, and you get the first public look at well over a dozen short films yearly. Best of all, the event is completely FREE and open to the public! This year’s edition takes place on May 18th at 3pm.

Martial arts movie legend Sonny Chiba cuts a memorable swath in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1.

Martial arts movie legend Sonny Chiba cuts a memorable swath through Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1.

Also in May, the Fox will embrace its silver screen heritage in the most red-blooded fashion possible, as it prepares to exhibit four of Quentin Tarantino’s most popular works for their ‘May Massacre’ event. Scheduled for screenings are Reservoir Dogs (May 9th), Pulp Fiction (May 10th), and both volumes of the Kill Bill saga (May 15th-16th).

It’s difficult to imagine a better place to watch QT’s robust monuments to cinematic excess, majestic monologues, and unforgettable characters than a legitimate 1930s picture palace such as the Fox Tucson Theatre, and there will be special interactive pre-show events with each screening, such as a freebies given out for those who can summon their best Reservoir Dogs ‘suit look’, not to mention specialty bar drinks and food. The Fox Tucson Theatre is at 17 W. Congress, and for more info, check out their Facebook page here.

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