Even five years ago, when the Nitehawk opened, it was understood that it was only a matter of time before the Alamo Drafthouse opened up in the five boroughs. This week, the long-awaited, much-ballyhooed opening of the Drafthouse NYC, in Downtown Brooklyn, sees the pioneer of the one-stop dinner-and-a-movie pioneer make its entry into a landscape that it’s already heavily influenced. The soft opening is underway; things are up and running for real and for good this weekend.
The Alamo Drafthouse NYC, occupying two upstairs floors at City Point, features seven screens, seating between 40 and 188, two with 3D capability and one with 35mm (the 94-seater). It further escalates the dine-in theater arms race with not just craft booze and upscale bar food, but its very own macabre curio-cabinet lobby bar as well.
As for the movies. Right, those. This will be a predominantly first-run theater, naturally, with titles like current zeitgeist indies Moonlight and The Handmaiden as well as family and Marvel fare upcoming. Repertory and special events will consist of of recurrent monthly and weekly spotlights finely poised between quote-along pop culture favorites and gonzo grindhouse fare, plus one-off parties, and additional repertory surveys: so far, inaugural series New in Town, featuring starry-eyed Big Apple neophytes from Jason Voorhees to Miss Piggy, and a Halloweeekend gorefest coprogrammed by Subway Cinema.
Cristina Cacioppo, Creative Manager of Drafthouse NYC, used to be the film programmer at 92YTribeca (RIP). Since she’ll be responsible for staking out an original programming sensibility in a high-traffic, high-profile space, I was very curious to ask her about her philosophy and plans. She answered some questions of mine over email.
All photos in this post are by Victoria Stevens, courtesy of the Alamo Drafthouse. Pictured below are two views of House of Wax; the theater’s rooftop bar, and Cristina Cacioppo.
I have a theory, maybe a specious one, that the growth of the Alamo Drafthouse “brand” (god help me) into multiple NYC-metro locations, the success and expansion of the Nitehawk, and the arrival of Syndicated (and, god help me, iPic) signal the rise of “event” moviegoing as a way of combating the erosion of audiences to streaming and on-demand options. Do you see the Downtown Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse’s programming philosophy as motivated by the desire to make a night at the movies into an event? (To educate? To advocate?) How can a movie be more of an event than it is?
To me going to a movie is already an event. Adding the food & drink aspect doesn’t necessarily make it more so. Programming for me is about sharing movies—adding elements like Q&As, giveaways, etc definitely incentivizes people to come out, but first and foremost it is about the movie.
I vividly remember the sound of my molars crunching into the spine of crisp leaf of lightly dressed Romaine lettuce during a screening of Tree of Life at the Nitehawk. I am abashed, and also curious: how does the fact that patrons will be consuming your estimable comestibles affect the programming at all?
No, I wouldn’t say so. I think every venue has its built-in distractions, especially in this city. You hear the subway rollicking, police sirens, rustling of bags. And of course—people eating popcorn! So why should eating be more disruptive? You learn to tune it out, especially if you are engaged with the movie. I’m not going to not show a movie just because it is full of quiet moments.
How important is format to you? Are you a 35mm purist—or, at least, do you see celluloid as potentially adding to the experience of seeing a film at the Drafthouse? What will be the balance, realistically, do you think?
When it comes to pre-digital age I do have a loyalty to 35mm, but that is mostly because existing DCPs are very limited. If a new, high quality DCP is created and the only existing 35mm are blood red or scratched up, well then DCP is the way to go. But if a good print exists, exhibitors should still have the option to choose. Some distributors don’t give you that option, and I guess that is fair if they put money into the DCP. Since we’ll be showing a lot of new releases, we will be mostly DCP. But 35mm will be important, and we’re already set to play some rare 35mm prints.
Are there any film organizations you’re partnering with to present screenings? (Archives, cultural centers, labels, festivals, programming collectives, et cetera.)
Definitely! We’re still solidifying some relationships but will work with International Documentary Association, Subway Cinema, Cinema Tropical, Rooftop Films to name a few.
What programming possibilities do you feel are suggested by the theater’s Downtown Brooklyn location? Will you be a “neighborhood theater” in any sense?
We will absolutely be a neighborhood theater. That will include showing films by local filmmakers, having guest hosts/programmers for ongoing series, and specific series like Shouting at the Screen with Wyatt Cenac and Donwill, in which they riff on Blaxploitation films. There will be family programming too, to engage the many kids in the area.
Any dream programming projects you’re far enough along with to at least hint at?
I’ve been very eager to do a series for the discerning female cinephile, and that is coming together as a monthly series called Cherry Bomb (thanks to my San Francisco colleague Mike Keegan for naming it!) While I support doing nostalgia-driven events that are more in the pop culture vein like Mean Girls, I felt like there are other movie-goers like myself who want to celebrate the more cult titles—things like Times Square, Christiane F. Recently I watched this 1988 film Sticky Fingers, which is this fun NYC-set comedy starring Melanie Mayron and Helen Slater as two broke musicians who get wrapped up in a bit of a caper. And we found a film print of it! This is exactly the kind of movie I want to share.