The recent 93rd Academy Awards Ceremony underscored for me the importance of movies as a medium to tell stories, but it also caused me to reflect on the precarious position of the film industry at the present time. Like so many other residents of Charlotte, I have not seen a film in a theater for over a year because of the current pandemic. As a result, I had not seen any of the films nominated for “Best Picture.” Because of plummeting ticket sales, the entire film industry is having one of the worst years in its history. For those of us in Charlotte who like foreign, classic, and independent films, the closing of the Manor Theatre in Myers Park has made a bad situation even worse. As Charlotte’s last remaining art house cinema, the Manor Theatre had long served as the community gathering place for local film buffs, but the 73-year-old theatre closed its door for good last May.
For Brad Ritter, the President of the Charlotte Film Society, the closing of the Manor Theatre hit very close to home. He started working at the Manor in 1993 as the projectionist, and he served as the general manager of the Manor Theatre from 1999 until it closed in 2020. Brad, however, is not the sort of person who is easily defeated. Right after the Manor closed, he started working with the membership of the Charlotte Film Society to establish their own movie theatre, and their vision is now well on its way to becoming a reality. They have identified a location for their new theatre on Raleigh Street in NoDa, and they have launched a campaign to raise the funds necessary to open the theatre, which they have named The INDEPENDENT Picture House.
I recently contacted Brad and asked him for more information about his mission to open a new venue to show independent and foreign films. Here is what he sent to me:
The idea of The INDEPENDENT Picture House started in May 2020 about 30 seconds after my manager told me that the Manor Theatre would not be reopening even after Covid-19 subsided. No, actually it was March 16, 2020 when I punched out the last ticket at the Manor’s box office. It wasn’t a ticket that a customer bought, but rather a comp ticket that I purposely rang through to give to my long-time assistant manager, Brandy. We knew we were “temporarily” closing due to the pandemic, but I had a feeling. When I handed the ticket to Brandy, I told her that she should keep it and that could very well be the last ticket ever ejected out of the ticket printer at the 73-year-old movie theatre.
No, wait, that’s not totally true either. The seeds for The INDEPENDENT Picture House were sowed many years ago when I and the Charlotte Film Society’s programmer and Manor projectionist would sit around the Manor lobby and dream about how much better the theatre could be programmed.
What if the Film Society had their own venue? A non-profit cinema that wanted to expand film programming to better engage the entire community. Provide the same great “Manor movies” while also bringing in the “artier,” more diverse films that the CFS is known for. Provide a space where filmmakers had an affordable and proper venue to show off their craft. A locally operated cinema that works with educational institutions to help expand film knowledge and its impact on lives.
That’s how the Charlotte Film Society envisions The INDEPENDENT Picture House. A cinematic hub that will bring a diverse audience together to celebrate art through the film medium. We look forward to being able to invite you to experience this fresh concept in the fall of 2021.
I applaud Brad and the members of the Charlotte Film Society for having the vision and determination to create The INDEPENDENT Picture House, and I am looking forward to seeing films there when it opens for business. In the meantime, I urge everyone to visit their website: https://www.charlottefilmsociety.com/ The Manor Theatre will always have an honored place in the history of Storied Charlotte, but I expect that all of us who loved to go to the Manor will soon find a new favorite gathering place at The INDEPENDENT Picture House.