I became the lead movie reviewer for NUVO in 1996. I'd written capsule reviews and the occasional feature review for several years before that, but it wasn't until '96 that I yammered my way into the lead slot. While ambition was certainly part of the equation, it was annoyance that motivated me to pester A&E editor Jim Poyser for the job. Annoyance with the feature movie reviews appearing in the paper week after week.
Nothing against the writer as a person – I didn't know the guy very well. But damn, his reviews were dense and maddeningly flat. NUVO called itself an alternative newspaper, so why was it running listless movie reviews? I told Jim that I was a better writer than the current guy and that I wanted the man's job. Then I told him again and again, pretty much on a weekly basis, until I opened the paper and read a review of Star Trek: First Contact that was so lame that it infuriated me. I knew that the writer had attended a press junket for the film and interviewed some of the cast and crew, but that wasn't reflected in his wussy little piece. Damn!
I phoned Jim again and ranted about the opportunity for a colorful, insightful article that had been pissed away. A few days later, I received a call from Jim informing me that the job was mine.
Heartwarming little story, eh? It actually was the only time in my life that I brazenly set out to take someone else's position. I probably should say something conciliatory at this point, but I just decided to let the story stand on its own.
This month NUVO celebrates its 20th anniversary. Pretty impressive, particularly in light of the ghastly things happening at and to newspapers all over the place. People, page numbers, and entire papers keep dropping like flies. A great many newspapers ditched their movie reviewers, electing to run wire service critiques instead. Some dropped regular film coverage entirely. I used to meet with other members of the Indianapolis film-related print media to discuss how to best deal with the newspaper crisis. Now, I AM the Indianapolis film-related print media. There are a respectable number of talented local film-related writers, mind you. They just don't get to write on paper anymore.
And here we are. It's 2010, (which still sounds like the future, doesn't it?) and since 1996 I have covered film for NUVO. Been through some pretty absurd contortions to keep doing it, but the main thing is that NUVO continues to provide a consistent local voice covering movies. Yea for us!
So what else is different? The layout of movie theaters has changed drastically. Stadium seating is the norm now. It's not a bad arrangement, but coming into the auditorium is certainly a different experience. Where once you entered theaters from the back and walked the slanted aisle in relative anonymity to find a seat, now you travel up or down a hallway and round a corner, where you emerge in front of a looming audience staring down from their stadium perches. But you can see the movie better.
The best theater in town currently is the IMAX at the Indiana State Museum downtown. What a grand place. Yes, there are other IMAX screens in town, but compare them to the IMAX downtown and there's no contest. We need to go there more often.
For years, fans of independent, foreign and classic films had two choices. Castleton Arts and Key Cinemas. Sure, Castleton Arts was part of a chain, but it didn't feel that way. Tucked away on the vast Castleton Square parking lot, it was an oasis from the Castleton consumer madness and the sameness of the cineplexes. Every so often its parent company would force in some ill-fitting title, like Godfather III, but most of the time the colorful staff and their booker teamed up to bring a remarkable series of films to the city. And oh, their festivals. A few nationally-touring film fests played Castleton Arts, but most of the time they made up their own themes and prayed that enough people would show up to pay for the cost of the prints and maybe a little extra.
Meanwhile, on the south side of the city, Ron Keedy staged a one-man battle for the arts with the two-screen Key Cinemas. The building was old and the strip mall it was housed in was seedy, but it didn't matter – well, not to some of us – because Ron brought in films we would have never seen otherwise. It was tough for him – studios preferred having their films play on the more upscale north side of town, so most of the more high-profile titles landed at Castleton Arts. But Keedy forged on, screening documentaries, foreign films, a wildly-mixed series of indies, and whatever the hell classic films that tickled his fancy. His all-time favorite, the original 1953 version of War of the Worlds, played more than once and man oh man, did it ever look great up on the big screen!
Alas, Key Cinemas didn't get the support it needed. Too many northsiders complained that it was too far to drive, or too run down, and too many southsiders opted for the cineplexes rather than the Keedy adventure. Castleton Arts did pretty well until they got screwed by a decision to make a designer arthouse in a more fashionable location nearby. Both facilities are gone now, replaced by Landmark's Keystone Art Cinema in Keystone at the Crossing. It's a popular place with a terrific staff and it brings the city more alternative fare than ever, but I still miss the quirky, cozy atmosphere of Castleton Arts and the makeshift, crazy-ass magic of Key Cinemas.
Indy embraces film festivals
Heartland Film Festival, having started in 1991, is almost as old as NUVO. From its beginning, Heartland has sought to show films and encourage filmmaking that "explore the human journey." Created to provide a kind of of counter-weight to Hollywood's penchant to exploit the more sordid aspects of this journey, Heartland tries, instead, to "inspire, educate, engage." To this end, Heartland annually provides filmmakers with $200,000 in award money. The festival has also created the Truly Moving Picture Awards to bring attention to films consistent with its mission.
In 2004, the Indianapolis International Film Festival was created to serve the changing (and evolving) tastes of local filmgoers, providing a cosmopolitan selection of short films and features from around the world. The IIFF's mission has been to provide "a vivid reflection of the rich cultural diversity of Indianapolis and the world beyond our doors." Starting with 65 submissions for its first year, the IIFF chose from among 500 films in 2009, ultimately exhibiting 130 films from 40 nations, making it the largest film festival schedule in Indiana.
The annual LGBT Film Festival continues to present a wide array of films pertaining to the gay, lesbian and transgendered community. Last year, the LGBT Festival expended to two venues, IUPUI and the Toby at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Like the Heartland and the IIFF, it has also brought filmmakers and film performers to Indianapolis, not only providing local audiences with a substantially larger menu of films to experience in the course of any given year, but helping to make the city a filmmakers' destination in new and important ways.
Central Library's Clowes Auditorium (40th E. St. Clair St.): Gives classic films the big screen treatment, including films made by and starring Hoosiers. Screenings are free. For more info: www.imcpl.org.
Earth House (237 N. East St.): Specializes in showing environmentally conscious documentaries, but every once in a while, you can see a popcorn movie there (i.e. District 9, Where the Wild Things Are). Films play every Thursday night at 7 p.m. for a ticket price of $5 ($2 for members). For more info: www.earthhousecollective.org.
Epworth United Methodist Church (6450 Allisonville Rd.): Almost the same as Earth House, but without the inclusion of mainstream movies. Films here also focus on ecological issues — and inspire their audiences to spark discussion afterwards. The screenings are free, but free-will donations are accepted. For more info: www.epworthindy.org.
IMA Toby Theatre (4000 Michigan Rd.): A newly renovated art house cinema, the Toby presents classic, independent, international and documentary films. The films are often introduced by exciting special guests, such as landmark filmmaker, Peter Bogdanovich.Recently voted Best Screening Room by Indianapolis Monthly, the Toby is the real deal — an educational and entertaining place that will open your eyes to the magic of movies. Ticket prices vary. For more info: www.imamuseum.org.
Jewish Community Center (6701 Hoover Rd.): Mainly shows films from the Indiana Film Society, which has "brought foreign, independent, and hard-to-find films to Hoosiers since 1988." Every year, IFS focuses its film series on a specific theme or era. For more info: www.indianafilmsociety.org or www.jccindy.org.