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SF’s Indie Flick Havens
Cynthia Popper

Red Vic Movie House
This is going to sound mean but let’s face it: in a world of sucky celebrities in even suckier movies, it’s a wonder anyone ventures beyond their Netflix queue to check out something new. Don’t get me wrong, good films are being made, just not in Hollywood anymore. And if your brooding art friend is right and the new indie flick looks like it might resemble viable entertainment, your local neighborhood megaplex ain’t gonna run it. I know, mean. But true.

Fear not. San Francisco boasts many havens supporting the arts, and the media of film is no exception. Not one, but three—count ‘em—three amazing independent movie houses that keep it real, totally devoid of commercial blockbusters and overexposed A-Listers. These houses consider the actual sitting and watching part of the entire movie experience. They feature films that focus on the story, spectacle, and earnest effort of artisan filmmakers, and tickets aren’t 30 bucks a pop either. Delicious. We’ll begin this tour with a venue in the most organic of locales—Haight Street—with the most authentic of movie houses: The Red Vic.

The Red Vic Movie House is the antithesis of the Cineplex-style movie theatre. Located in the Upper Haight between Cole and Schrader Streets, it’s a nondescript little venue that, upon first sight, really isn’t much to look at, but don’t let that fool you. For what the Red Vic is lacking in faux neon glamour, it more than compensates in soul.

One of the last independent movie houses, the Red Vic is a collective, run by a group of members who simply love movies. The theatre itself is a single small screen and maximum occupancy is a slender 145, but the beauty lies in the details. They have cushy bench couches instead of sticky movie chairs, and you can get real refreshments, as in soda served in actual glasses—made of real glass—and assorted organic munchies. And you don’t have to worry about disturbances like cell phones at the Red Vic. At other, nameless, faceless celluloid emporiums, the pre-feature “Silence is Golden” reminder to turn your phone off is compulsory, but at the Red Vic, if your phone goes off, you could get a slap in the mouth. Remember: this place isn’t big and people will know it’s you.

Castro Theatre
The movie menu at The Red Vic is superb. A small, independent movie house should play small, independent films—and the Red Vic covers them all and then some. The spectrum ranges from classics you should have seen, to foreign works you would normally never hear about. Political dramas, anime, short works by local filmmakers—the Red Vic is the definitely the movie house of the people. Show up early for tickets—for hotter films the line can wrap around the block faster than you can say “Shut the hell up the movie’s starting!” Tickets are a bargain at $5 to $8.50 a pop, so you can enjoy the patchouli-infused nightlife of the Haight post-flick.

Next up is the legendary Castro Theatre.

Seeing anything at the Castro Theatre is an old-time movie experience with a modern-day twist. It’s appropriate to put on some ghetto-fab funk for a major performance or an event at the Theatre. Go on a Saturday night for the Sound of Music Sing Along and the place is wall to wall boas and fishnets—metal-clad creatures with Technicolor hairdos mingle with prim-looking old timers and severe film aficionados. Classic cult films, transgender fashion shows, sultry belly dancing, or riveting spoken word: if you like your entertainment to be less about hype and more about urban culture—this is where the colorful locals come to get it.

The Roxie
The crowning jewel of the Theatre is the Wurlitzer pipe organ that ascends from center stage. Originally installed in 1922—then later replaced in 1971—it’s a big part of what makes this theatre so unique. Organists David Hegarty and Bill McCoy each provide loud, vibrant 1920s style performances before show time. The organ was intended as accompaniment during silent films or to fill the void of intermissions. As soon as the first key is struck, the audience bursts into thunderous applause; the thrill of the crowd is completely contagious and unlike the typical, hurry-up-and-start-the-damn-movie experience, the crowd seems a little sad to see David or Bill descend into the sub- stage depths.

The Theatre covers an enormous spectrum of movies and live performances; Clark Gable, Diana Ross, Rita Hayworth, and (of course) Judy Garland all make their annual onscreen appearances, but with more recent favorites like Rushmore and Boogie Nights in the mix, you can bet there is something on their calendar for just about everyone.The Castro is a historical landmark and neighborhood anchor, and as such hosts a variety of fun and unique events, MCeed by local personalities, with proceeds going to various charities and non profits. So if you like your entertainment dollar to stretch beyond the credits, the Castro might have something worth checking out. The Theatre is also home to the San Francisco International Film Festival, where cinephiles and filmmakers from around the globe meet to sip vodka and chat with the local scene dwellers. These unique film offerings are not to be missed, and to make it even sweeter, The Theatre offers a discounted admission of 10 bucks for students with ID.

Which brings us to our final stop on our Movie House Tour: The Roxie New College Film Center, (aka “The Roxie.”)

The Roxie
Located at 16th and Valencia, in the solar plexus of the Mission, the Roxie is where small potato filmmakers get to show their stuff without the hoo ha of the celeb-clad indie circuit. Its newly refurbished auditoriums seat 280 (the “big” one) and 49 respectively, and is lauded as being the oldest continually running cinema in the city. The Roxie is known for being a venue for films on the edge; harder, provocative and innovative—it’s for subculture by design. The Roxie also hosts a variety of film festivals: shorts, foreign, eco-activism, and sex worker (yes, they have a film festival too). It’s a movie house where artists can say what they want, how they want, without censorship. Tickets run just 8 bucks for general admission, but check their calendar for special event pricing.

So there’s no excuse to watch bad TV or waste your money on another braindead Hollywood blockbuster. San Francisco loves great filmmaking and supports it well by providing a diverse selection of venues for your viewing pleasure. Sometimes glamorous, sometimes gritty, these movie houses will not only show you great works, but show them in a way that will make you want to become part of the experience yourself.

So shut the hell up. The movie’s starting!

Listings associated with this Feature:

Castro Theatre Red Vic

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