The Independent Picture House, Charlotte’s new (and only) arthouse cinema, had its grand opening on June 24, 2022. A project of the Charlotte Film Society, the Independent Picture House is officially described as a “non-profit community cinema that screens diverse, foreign, arthouse and independent film in Charlotte, NC.” Located at 4237 Raleigh Street in NoDa, this film venue has three auditoriums, a welcoming lobby area, and ample parking. For more information about the Independent Picture House, please click on the following link: https://independentpicturehouse.org
The story of how the Independent Picture House came to be goes back about ten years, and the best person to tell this story is Brad Ritter, the President of the Charlotte Film Society. I contacted Brad and asked him about the evolution of the Independent Picture House. Here is what he sent to me:
The birth of The Independent Picture House (the Indie) has evolved over the last decade. The Charlotte Film Society’s first serious stab at creating an independent nonprofit arthouse cinema started with a potentially cozy (small) space in Plaza Midwood. It would have been next to Bistro La Bon in a strip mall that is currently being demolished under the guise of “progress.” We went through several architectural drawings and each iteration reduced the size of the space until we were left with a single screen, 40-seat auditorium. Too small.
A couple of years later we looked at Camp North End for a home. Again, multiple meetings later we did the financial numbers and decided that we couldn’t afford the neighborhood. Too expensive.
During this period, we had developed a great relationship at C3 Lab in Southend. C3 Lab had been hosting our Back Alley Film Series as well as other one-off screenings. They were expanding their arts footprint into two other adjacent buildings and invited us to entertain the idea of building a cinema. We ended up passing on the space due to limited parking and a relatively short lease (seven years). We knew with the growth of Southend a seven-year lease wouldn’t allow us to get established and recoup our capital investment. Too risky.
Enter 2020 and Covid-19. Actually, let’s go back to 2018 when the first of three Charlotte arthouses closed, Park Terrace Cinemas…move forward to December 2019 and the Ballantyne Village Cinema closed. Now we’re in the spring of 2020, and we’re in the midst of Covid. It was during the early stages of the virus in what turned out to be a very long year that the last of the arthouses shuttered.
The Manor Theatre was Charlotte’s oldest and best-known arthouse theatre. At 73 years old, it was by far the oldest theatre operating. The thing that gets me about the Manor’s closing is that it has always been labeled a casualty of Covid. The pandemic made it easy to close the Manor. It became a footnote. Having been a long-time employee there, 27+ years and 21 being the general manager, I had heard the rumors of its demise for decades. I truly think with or without Covid the Manor would have closed by the end of 2020.
I still remember that Saturday when my supervisor called me and my two managers into the cinema to officially tell us the theatre was closing. There were no tears shed as we already knew what was coming. Instead, the most important thing that came out of that meeting was I was able to secure the popcorn machine by telling my boss I wanted it for “sentimental” reasons (which was true) and besides, it was too small for any of the other theatres in town. “Ol’ Poppy” had been a fixture at the Manor since before my tenure and was sort of a center point of the theatre’s universe. Knowing we could give it a new home in some weird way gave us a direction…that being to open our own nonprofit community arthouse cinema.
Within 2 weeks of the official announcement of the Manor’s permanent closing, we had our first meeting with Tony Kuhn at Flywheel Group. As I and a couple other Film Society board members shook Tony’s hand for the first time, he handed us a layout of where Charlotte’s first ever nonprofit cinema would be in the massive 36,000 sq.ft. warehouse. It was at that moment we knew we had our home, and the rest was just details.
Of course, I could go on forever talking about the excitement of opening after two years of construction. And I should and I do thank the thousands of supporters, be it through financial support, volunteering, or just words of encouragement! THANK YOU!
And I really want to bring up our core component of the Indie: the 3 E’s (Educate, Engage and Enable). Because we want to be more than just a movie theatre showing movies. We want to capitalize on being a nonprofit and collaborate with the entire Charlotte community: from taking films out into underserved communities to offering an affordable venue for local artists. We will become the cinematic hub of Charlotte through the support of the community, and we will give back ten-fold.
I commend Brad and all of the members of the Charlotte Film Society for having the vision and determination to create the Independent Picture House. This community cinema might only be a month old, but it has already established itself as one of Storied Charlotte’s premier places to immerse oneself in the world of stories.