Film

CinemaDope: Cottage Industry

A new theater for Easthampton

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Thursday, November 03, 2011
Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
The Staples Singers in Rejoice and Shout

From the Cottage Street sidewalk outside, Popcorn Noir is an unassuming little place. The large plate glass windows are curtained off, and the paint is peeling on the wood above them, where, until recently, a sign for the Iglesia de Dios hung. But a glance at the logo on the front door—a stylized film reel mixed with other elements—gives away the game. Popcorn Noir is Easthampton's latest movie theater.

Eschewing first-run films to show classics, foreign and cult films and children's movies, the new kid on the block isn't meant to be a threat to the multiplex. As conceived by husband and wife team Thomas Doherty and Kristen Davis, the theater is meant far more as a community gathering place than a money-making machine. Indeed, one of the most surprising things about the venture—which will be open by the time this goes to press, and screening some 15 to 20 shows a week—is the admission price: free.

By keeping the admission gratis, the pair have been able to work with film distributors to come up with reasonable rental fees, although with some peculiar stipulations (more on that in a moment). To help cover costs, they plan to sell a wide range of concessions both traditional and modern; the eponymous "Popcorn Noir" is an updated take on the perennial made with Mexican chocolate, chilis, and cinnamon. (It helps that Davis is a chef talented enough to have appeared on the Food Network.)

Also on tap: a variety of craft beers and artisanal wines, as well as a family-friendly selection of healthy snacks and vegan fare. And to top it off, moviegoers will have the rare pleasure of table service during the films—no more missing scenes just to grab a refill.

As mentioned above, the unusual rental deal comes with an unusual string attached: the theater isn't permitted to advertise the films it shows. To get around that obstacle, screenings are organized by theme, so that parents know that a 3 p.m. show will always be kid-friendly, while a 7 p.m. screening is for a more mature crowd. For the real inside line, patrons can spend 10 bucks to become a member and get the week's titles delivered in an email. Pony up a bit more to become a VIP member and you can reserve seats—a huge bonus for a theater that maxes out at 20 people per screening.

That may seem like a tight squeeze, but when I visited, the feeling was more akin to hanging out in your living room with some good friends. Even the seats at Popcorn Noir—amply cushioned armchairs—seem plucked from a cozy den. And as Davis pointed out, the limited seating will allow the theater to offer more niche fare than a larger house might be able to support, and also offer an attractive option for local artists of all sorts—Doherty mentioned bringing in DJs and multimedia artists as well as filmmakers—who might be looking for a place to host a private screening. All in all, it's an audacious and remarkably community-minded venture, and one that could do a great deal for nightlife in Easthampton.

For now, though, the couple is simply looking forward to opening the doors. If you'd like to learn more or become a member, they can be reached at popcornnoir@gmail.com or via the Popcorn Noir page on Facebook.

*

Also this week: Music meets movies at Amherst Cinema and Pleasant Street Theater with a pair of documentary screenings. At Amherst, The Joy of Sax film series continues on Monday with A Great Day in Harlem, Jean Bach's Academy Award-nominated look at the most famous photo in jazz, featuring interviews with many musicians present on that day in 1958. And on Tuesday at PST, Rejoice and Shout tracks the footsteps of gospel music back through the story of African-American history, charting parallel paths as the music reflects the culture of the day.

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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