Editor’s Note: The following series, “Popcorn Poppin’ in The Big Easy” is a week-long series curated by Piper Stevens as part of the Digital Research Internship Program in partnership with ViaNolaVie. The DRI Program is a Newcomb Institute technology initiative for undergraduate students combining technology skillsets, feminist leadership, and the digital humanities.
There are nary two things that go together as harmoniously as popcorn and movies. October happens to be National Popcorn Poppin’ month as well as the time of year when New Orleans theaters open their doors for the Annual New Orleans Film Festival. Therefore, it seems an apt time to appreciate New Orleans for the film mecca it has come to be. This grouping of articles explores and appreciates New Orleans’ culture as it relates to film in the past, present, and future.
For many New Orleans moviegoers, the closure of Movie Pitchers in 1999 could be considered a minor tragedy. Its mix of art-house and Hollywood movies, its funky armchairs and couches, and its menu featuring everything from a tuna fish sandwich to a Jack and Coke provided a unique and vital niche for many. (The fact that it was leveled to make room for extra parking spaces for a Sav-a-Center added salt to the wound.)
Count Brian Knighten as one of those hit particularly hard by the demise of Movie Pitchers. Upon learning of the theater’s imminent closing, he remembers thinking, “’We can’t lose this institution,’” said Knighten, 42.
Instead of just moping, however, Knighten went to meet with Movie Pitchers’ ownership and offered to help in any way he could to save the business.
They would end up filing a legal injunction but were unsuccessful. “Ultimately the business was forced to close,” Knighten said. “That just stuck with me since 1999.”
The end of Movie Pitchers, however, would become the seed for The Broad, Knighten’s brand new four-screen theater in Mid-City/Treme.
Like Movie Pitchers, the selection of films will be a mix of art-house and Hollywood crossover films, and The Broad also features food and drinks like Movie Pitchers. He’s taken the essence of what he knows and loves about the old movie house, and he’s also added some unique elements to The Broad.
“Everything is brand new, all brand new seats,” Knighten said. “We do not have any couches in our auditorium like Movie Pitchers did. We’re more of a traditional theater in that sense–all new digital projection, all new bar equipment, etc.”
The search for a suitable building for his vision was a tall order, said Knighten. “You really need a large amount of space [for a movie theater], and as everyone knows that the price of real estate in the city of New Orleans has shot up tremendously in the last couple of years.”
But then he happened upon a 1924 Spanish colonial building on Broad Street. Though blighted and vacant at the time, Knighten saw its potential and went ahead with a large-scale renovation.
“It’s tough to find in our city something with large square footage, parking, high traffic, a beautiful building,” he said. “It all sort of coalesced around this gorgeous building.”
As for the films? “We’re trying to have something for everyone,” said Knighten. “Every week we have new films – maybe it’s the country of origin that changes, or the type of film, or the topic.”
“It sounds a little hokey to say,” he added, “but I believe in film, and I believe what film has the ability to do. We have a film from Turkey right now. It’s gorgeous, and it’s not the type of setting you usually see when you see Turkey on the news. It’s a much different setting. We also have a film from Colombia right now, showing the Amazon. Film on the big screen allows people, for that two hours, to just venture to that location.”
Knighten also said that one of The Broad’s missions is to make going to the movies affordable again. “We don’t want you to see a movie every six months, we want you to see something every month. Come here to see what we have to offer, that’s sort of the long term goal, and that’s something that we try to plug away at every day, and just become a home for people.”
Ultimately, “We want to be the theater for the city of New Orleans for film,” he added. “We want to be the center for film. We want to present films that we curate and select and we want filmmakers to choose us to present their films, becoming that destination and the first place that people think of whenever they want to go see a movie.”
This was originally published on Apr 14, 2016.