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Alamo Drafthouse Comes to Brooklyn: An Inside Look at New York City’s Newest Theater

Written by Cory Everett on October 26, 2016 

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No one would accuse New Yorkers of being starved for options when it comes to going to the movies. From cultural institutions like Film Society of Lincoln Center, BAMcinématek, Museum of the Moving Image, and Film Forum, to indie theatres IFC Center and Nitehawk, to bar/theatre hybrids Videology and Syndicated, to the many, many multiplexes, you’ll never hurt for options when it comes to finding a great film to see on the big screen on any given weekend. Exciting newcomers like Metrograph proved it is still possible to make an impact with even the most jaded NYC cinephiles, while the fate of upscale theatres like iPic is yet to be seen.

But despite this bounty of riches, things are about to get even more exciting because after five years and a few false starts, the Alamo Drafthouse is finally opening in Downtown Brooklyn. (The official opening date is Friday, but they’ve quietly been rolling out preview screenings all week.) If you’re a movie geek, chances are that you’re already familiar with the Alamo, and if not, you’re about to be very happy. It has been called “the best theatre in America” or even “the world,” and even if you don’t have one in your city, you may still be aware of them.

For those unfamiliar, Alamo was founded in Austin back in 1997 as a single-screen repertory theatre by husband-wife team Tim and Karrie League, and has spun out into an empire, which now includes Fantastic Fest, Mondo collectibles, Drafthouse Films and Birth.Movies.Death. Maybe you’ve heard of their Rolling Roadshow series, or how Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson are big fans. Maybe you’re aware of their strict no talking, no texting policy, immortalized in an ongoing series of hilarious PSAs. (Don’t worry, they have some new Brooklyn-centric ones on the way.)

Or maybe you’ve seen Tim League’s name pop up in the news whenever it looks like film projection might go extinct, or a major chain considers allowing texting in their theatre — he’s always there fighting the good fight. In an increasingly crowded marketplace, League’s love of genre and oddball cinema could be just what NYC is missing. The Downtown Brooklyn location features 7 screens, 6 for new releases (half for Hollywood fare, half arthouse and indie), with 1 screen reserved for repertory film, special events and capable of showing 35mm film.

alamo-drafthouse-downtown-brooklyn-7Some highlights from the first couple weeks include a screening of cult-favorite The Monster Squad on Halloween night, horror-comedy Blood Diner with director Jackie Kong, Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures with star Melanie Lynskey, as well as ongoing series like a revival of Shouting At The Screen (where Wyatt Cenac and Donwill liven up screenings of old Blaxploitation films), 35mm Asian horror series In The Mood For Gore, and New In Town where you can see our fair city invaded by Muppets, Babe or Jason Vorhees, among others.

But even beyond the programming, League’s love of film that really is evident to anyone who visits a Drafthouse location. From the vintage Turkish film posters lining the hallways to the adjoining bar, House Of Wax, it’s all in the details. Part cocktail-bar, part oddities-museum, House of Wax features classic cocktails and a serious local brewery selection as well as some vintage, stomach turning waxworks. This new venue will host everything from vaudeville acts to local bands, all tied to the programming.

So after a screening of La La Land this December, you might wander downstairs to House of Wax to catch a live jazz band playing some tunes from the film. The space also features a small vinyl section and will also function as an East Coast hub for Mondo Records, as a perfect venue for any upcoming record release parties.

If you’re stuck with a seat in the front row when Doctor Strange opens next week, League has got you covered. He nixed several rows of potential seats and added recliners exclusively to the front row, just to make sure there isn’t bad seat in the house. Oh, and other than movie trailers, Alamo also refuses to show ads before the film. AMC or Regal, this is not.

On the eve of its grand opening, we got a chance to take an early look at the beautiful new theatre, as well as the House Of Wax. We also spoke to League and head of programming Cristina Cacioppo (formerly of Alamo Yonkers and 92YTribeca) about what they have planned for their new Brooklyn outpost. During a tour of the facilities — seen throughout the article with photos from Victoria Stevens — League wanted to show off the theatre’s impressive sound system with a quick demo of an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster, but left the room before it began because he said he “wanted to go in clean.”

Have you really not seen the Rogue One trailer?

tim-leagueTim League: No I haven’t. And just now I wasn’t watching it but as I was coming in I heard a distinctive breath, so that’s shitty, but that’s alright. We know the director [Monsters director Gareth Edwards] pretty well, he’s half-heartedly committed to coming and doing some support at the Alamo on his schedule.

When did you first start thinking about opening an Alamo Drafthouse in New York?

About 7 years ago. Then we signed the lease on this 5½ years ago. But it was dirt, right? And they had to build this giant building. And about a year ago we started our work.

How has it been getting this location up and running?

It’s been easier than San Francisco and harder than any other. It’s fine, the complexity is just because it’s part of this huge development [City Point] and there are things beyond our control. We’ve been close to ready for a couple months now. And for a building of this size, there are 4,000 individual fire alarms in the building, and everything has to be tested, and everything has to pass, so it’s been a real headache.

It came together magically. And the folks from the building have actually been great, a lot of things are beyond their control as well. Thankfully we’re here. I mean, it’s a lot later than I was expecting, and I kept on what is now in retrospect, lying to Cristina [Cacioppo, Creative Manager]. [Laughs]

Obviously, you guys will be a great addition to the neighborhood for new releases, but I think what will really be exciting for a lot of cinephiles will be your repertory programming. How much research into the New York repertory scene did you do to see if there was a lane for Alamo?

Personally, I tend to watch what everybody is doing from a repertory standpoint, from an alternative programming standpoint, so keeping your eye on what folks do in New York and LA and San Francisco, that’s where a lot of concentration of great stuff is happening. So I’ve been aware, but then a long time ago we hired Cristina who has been a part of that scene and community and knows the people for a long time. It’s not a huge world of film programmers. We thought back then and still think today that there’s plenty of room.

Even with theatres like Metrograph recently opening and plans for the expansion of Nitehawk, it’s great. Cristina and I went to see a movie over at Metrograph and I absolutely loved it. It was a great experience. But it’s a huge city! And there are not enough movie theatres doing good stuff, so I think there’s a lot more room for plenty of theatres. It’s just really hard to open a theatre in New York, so it doesn’t happen very often. It seems to be happening a lot now though.

Shouting At The Screen looks like fun, very-specifically New York series. How much of the programming will be tailored to a New York audience vs. just introducing the Alamo sensibility to New Yorkers?

It’s a mix. Cristina is going to be taking shows we do in Austin like weekly exploitation series in 35mm, but it’s programmed to her sensibilities. So the framework is something we’ve been doing for the past 15 years, but it’s her voice. The only time when it’s driven down from Austin headquarters is a movie like The Handmaiden, which the creative managers and myself all talk about upcoming movies we were excited about and said, ‘Okay, this is Drafthouse Recommends.’ And when it’s that title, it means it plays everywhere. And we do a lot of marketing initiative from Austin. But there’s a lot of local marketing that happens and that Cristina controls.

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After the above group interview, we got a chance to speak 1:1 with League, and that conversation begins below.

What are you most excited about in the upcoming slate of programming?

The Handmaiden I’m a huge fan of, we played it at Fantastic Fest, Chan-wook Park came to that, I think it’s just a phenomenal film. And this is just first-run movies, but I really love La La Land. We’re going to be supporting that. I like that because A. the movie is amazing and B. we have this stage at the House Of Wax that we’re going to be doing jazz performances after the movie, which is integral to the film itself, so we’re going to incorporate the food, the music and the film together in one space, which I think is a really powerful combination.

As much as you would think NYC already has everything, I feel like we’ve really been missing that Alamo sensibility. As a big fan of movies like The Monster Squad or Blood Diner, those are films that haven’t been shown in New York, so to see those films programmed in the first couple weeks is really exciting.

I’m excited about Heavenly Creatures, which we played at our first theatre, and I really loved it, and we actually had to get a print from Peter Jackson so we shipped it from New Zealand to here cause there is no print in the U.S. for some stupid reason.

I know you’ve talked about how there is room for everybody in the film landscape but throughout the country when you see other places opening Alamo-type theatres do you have any twinge of thinking that they should get their own ideas?

No, I still don’t. We sampled from other people to come up with our ideas, I continue to sample now. If somebody does something good, we might try to take our own spin on it. We’re pretty active in this organization called Arthouse Convergence, which is all the independent theatres in the United States. We have a conference before Sundance every year and a big event in September called Arthouse Theatre Day, much like Record Store Day, and it just kicked off this year. That’s a community and an organization that’s all about sharing, best practices, ideas and we come in and share our best practices, our ideas, our members, so I’m more than happy for independent operators to take inspiration from us if they want to and do their own thing. It’s what we did so I can’t begrudge anybody for doing that.

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Austin has Fantastic Fest. LA has Beyond Fest. Is there any plans to stage a genre film festival in New York, which it seems we are sorely in need of?

Maybe [laughs]. We’ve certainly thought about it, whether it’s an extension of Fantastic Fest or its own thing. That’s the type of programming that’s nearest and dearest to my heart, so I’m gonna continue to support it. So I’ll assume we will have something along those lines [here in NYC].

Cool, that would be very exciting. Speaking of Fantastic Fest, you recently picked up Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal for distribution…

[Coyly] Well, there’s rumors that we may or may not have picked up Colossal.

Got it. Well are there any plans for that new as-yet-untitled distribution company and how will it differ from your Drafthouse Films label?

Yeah, we haven’t fully announced our plans yet but we hope to very soon. It’s going to still continue the aesthetic we have at Drafthouse Films. We’re teaming up with Tom Quinn who was running Radius, and we have a lot of the same sensibilities. He released It Follows, he released Citizenfour, he loves docs. So I think we’ll do some movies that are bigger, but we’ll also do movies that are small and curated, and everything is gonna be movies that we love.

We also spoke with head of programming Cristina Cacioppo, and you can read our conversation below.

cristina-cacioppoHow much do you look at what the other repertory theatres in NYC are doing and how do you adjust? Or are you that concerned?

Cristina Cacioppo: I’m someone who is an avid moviegoer, so just because of that, I’m always looking at what other people are doing because I’m someone who goes to the movies, so I want to know what I want to go to. But it has also been important to me in the time that I’ve been doing movie programming to have a distinct voice, and sure, there are some movies that can play multiple places but I want to know that okay, BAM is doing a Joe Dante series, so I’m not gonna show Gremlins for a couple of months, you know? So I’m super tuned in. And a lot of us are friends, a lot of us programmers know each other, we have been talking about having a better line of communication and so, even though we’re not doing the exact kinds of things at the same time.

The Monster Squad is a perfect example. It’s the kind of movie that gets overlooked by a lot of these repertory houses, because I think that while New York has very rich offerings, it skews more intellectual and academic, and that’s what’s been missing. The last place I worked was 92YTribeca and my approach there was always that New York didn’t have that fun place, it didn’t have the Alamo. And I was always inspired by the Alamo. Doing Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday stuff, there’s so many movies that don’t get played.

It’s funny because now a lot is changing and with BAM doing things like the Joe Dante series and John Carpenter series, things are skewing younger and even towards horror. But for some reason there’s a total blind spot when it comes to action movies. And so I also feel like that here, nobody is doing older action movies, and those are some of my favorite movies to watch on a big screen with an audience. Even though there’s a ton of theatres, I think it all works to the same end. There are going to be some of the same people who are going to come to my Hard Target screening who are also going to be going to like, a Queer 90s thing at Metrograph.

For the most part, to see a lot of the genre stuff in NYC, I feel like you really have to go to the midnight screenings. Speaking just for myself here but not everybody wants to stay awake that late, so the cool thing about the Alamo doing these screenings is that they’re at reasonable hours!

And that has always been my philosophy. Yeah, those movies might play but they play at midnight and if you’re not willing to stay up — and I totally am not — I feel like we’re losing a whole audience. And also being in a midnight slot kinda puts it in a position where it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re not worthy of the prime time,’ which is just bullshit, you know?

And you get the same 20 movies that play on a loop on the midnight circuit. So what are some of the things you’re most excited about showing these first couple months?

I’m really excited about showing Heavenly Creatures with Melanie Lynskey. It’s a movie that I love and it kicks off this series, Cherry Bomb, which is going to be a monthly series. In December I’m going to show Christiane F, a German movie starring David Bowie as himself, performing the Station to Station album. It’s kinda this teenage junkie movie from the 80s and it’s really amazing.

Doing the New In Town series is really a way to show a lot of movies that I think are great that fit within the theme of introducing ourselves. Showing Babe: Pig in the City and Road House on the same day has been something that I’ve always thought about.

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I’ve actually haven’t seen either of those movies.

They’re both the best. Babe: Pig in the City is one of my most favorite movies ever.

Metrograph just did the Noah Baumbach double-feature with that one.

They did, yeah. And it’s so funny because I did show Babe: Pig in the City at 92YTribeca, so I wouldn’t say they scooped me on it. But I appreciate that because I feel like they validated it in a certain way because I know they sold it out too.

Alamo hired me three years ago when they thought they were going to open that [uptown Metro] theatre, so even though I’ve programmed in Yonkers there’s only so much you can do there. So I’ve been holding onto a lot of different ideas and things that will finally come to fruition.

I can’t wait for Blood Diner.

That worked out really well. Jackie Kong has been touring with it. And that’s the exact kinda thing where there would be no other venue for her to do that.

Austin has Fantastic Fest. LA has Beyond Fest. New York needs a genre film festival. Is that something that Alamo has been thinking about?

Well, doing things with Fantastic Fest is definitely on our minds. As far as pulling off a whole festival, we would really need to staff up for that. If we had opened in time for Fantastic Fest there was plans to do things that would be some livestream stuff and it’s definitely something we’ve talked about. So whether we start by doing a mini-Fantastic Fest, either after the festival or during and doing simultaneous shows, it’s definitely on people’s minds.

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Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn is located at 445 Albee Square West and officially opens its doors on Friday, October 28. See more information, including tickets, on the official site.


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