Film screenings remain sacred at Grace St. Theater

Alex Falls
Contributing Writer

The silver screen has given way to the digital screen in the modern age of technology, but Richmond’s Grace Street Theater gives the community a chance to see films in their original 35mm form.

Before digital became the industry standard, film was the way of the trade. Grace Street Theater projectionist Leland Lew still believes film projection is the best representation of classic cinema.

“All the stuff was created by the artists and the directors was originally for film,” Lew said. “Not like newer films that shoot directly to (digital). (35mm) films were originally shot on film, and I think they should be seen on their original formats.”

VCU School of the Arts stages Cinematheque on selected Tuesday nights at the Grace Street Theater. The event takes its name from the French word ‘cinemathèque,’ meaning “cinematic library.” Cinematheque screenings take place each semester and admission is free to the general public.

VCUarts’ Cinema program director Rob Tregenza said Cinematheque is important to the entire Richmond area.

“There has to be a cinematic culture in Richmond where art students and the community can actually see current cinema and also see historically important cinema,” Trengeza said.

Tregenza said Richmond requires a special kind of place where people can gather to view and discuss cinema in its original presentation and help that culture thrive. Tregenza based his program on Paris’ 1960s version of Cinematheque.

“Historically, the Cinematheque in Paris was a major cultural institution in the ’60s,” Tregenza said. “Most of the new-wave film directors … what they learned about film was in the Cinematheque in Paris.”

The next film scheduled for screening is France’s provocative “Hors Satan” (“Outside Satan”) on March 25. Other films being screened this season include the classic “Singin’ in the Rain” and modern foreign films such as “Ashes of Time” and “Almayer’s Folly.”

Nell Chenault, a research librarian for film and music at VCU Libraries, attends screenings as often as she can because she said viewing a film on a computer or at home cannot match the experience of sitting in an audience.

“The large screen and the dark draws you into the storytelling,” Chenault said. “Your brain is actually more emotionally engaged in this setting. You also participate with the fellow members of the audience as they laugh, gasp and emote.”

The movie industry’s shift to digital film is reflective of society’s continued integration of the newest technologies, Lew said. Costly shipping has forced 35mm film to be more of an antique.

“It’s more about transport,” Lew said. “It costs probably about $75 to $100 to ship a film across the country. But what does it cost to download a film into a digital server? Nothing.”

The availability of 35mm film prints in a digital-dependent world has presented problems for Cinematheque, Tregenza said.

“What’s available has increasingly become an issue because a lot of distribution is moving to digital … completely to digital,” Tregenza said. “At this point, we’re locked into showing everything in 35mm, which is what I would love to continue to do.”

Tregenza says he wants people to attend Cinematheque in the same way people attend the opera. His program facilitates a venue where people can view an antiquated art form in its most authentic presentation. Tregenza also compared seeing cinema in 35mm to seeing a favorite band perform live.

“Wouldn’t you so much rather see U2 in concert?” Tregenza said.

Screenings are held on select Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. at the Grace Street Theater at 934 W Grace St. Admission is free. The full Cinematheque schedule can be found online.

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