Many historic and art house venues, have their roots deeply seated in the magical era of vaudeville and silent film. One of these structural luminaries is located in Tampa, Florida and retains the stunning art deco architecture that thrilled audiences who lined up to see the latest Fred Astaire film. Built in 1926, the Tampa Theater sits in the vicinity of Franklin Street in Tampa, and is as popular today as it was in the roaring 20’s, succeeding where so many other historical and art house venues failed; to survive the pressure of including the Imax experience and reclining leather chairs.
In an article published last week, Art Film File discussed how the elbowing in of the modern movie venues seemed to be kicking out the smaller theaters in Florida. Granted it is not limited to the Sunshine State, but it certainly seems that more and more indie theaters are being pushed out to make way for the new.
In 1973, the Tampa Theater seemed to be headed towards an unavoidable date with the wrecking ball. According to their website, everything was prepared for its demise, until a group of concerned Tampa citizens heard the news, which provoked them to rally against its disappearance. The city of Tampa eventually rescued the theater in 1977, and is now operated as “a dynamic film and cultural center”, run by the Tampa Theater Foundation. It’s also managed to join the social media platforms successfully, securing some eleven thousand followers on Twitter and an equally important presence on Facebook.
Jill Witecki director of Marketing and Communications Relations of the Tampa Theater, told Art Film File that this historic venue offers moviegoers a more “authentic experience than what any of the dozens of nondescript chain theaters can provide”. Considering that the the Tampa Theater comes equipped with an authentic pipe organ which would play the music score during the silent film era, it certainly is an unforgettable experience for anyone that appreciates not only the experience of viewing a film, but also highly regards its history and role in an era that is long gone. Witecki’s view seems to coincide with those of Stonzek Theater manager Charlie Birnbaum. “I think that people come here because we’re different. We don’t offer alcohol or elaborate snacks. We just offer a good selection of movies that the public will hopefully like. We do have popcorn and candy though”, Birnbaum said humorously.
In regards to South Florida, and Palm Beach County in particular, the only venue to offer the same style of indie films engulfed in a historic structure is the Stonzek Theater. Located next door to the Lake Worth Playhouse, it runs as an independent film venue, which on occasion also hosts Q&A sessions with the directors, actors and writers of some of the films screened there, as was the case last week with the film Tangerine. After its Saturday evening showing, the Stonzek hosted a Skype Q&A with Chris Bergoch, co-writer of Tangerine, who gave some interesting behind-the scenes insights.
Film venues like the Tampa Theater and the Stonzek Theater offer moviegoers a different kind of experience that can’t be obtained in a chain multiplex. It offers the feeling of being amidst something that was part of film history; a unique view to the past when film was young and still considered somewhat a miraculous phenomenon by wide-eyed spectators.