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Buckle up for latest Film Society season

The Charlotte Film Society isn't exactly a yearling on the local film scene -- the organization has been bringing foreign and independent fare to the Queen City since 1982 -- but its Second Week series is another matter.

Premiering as the Second Week/ Second Chance series back in September 2000, the program adopted a different format by presenting not just one title at a time but three or four, screening them on a rotating basis throughout the second week of each month at the Manor Theater. Then after a week's run at the venerable art-house theater, the lineup would transfer to another Eastern Federal Corporation venue, Movies at Birkdale, to continue for another seven days (hence the Second Chance).

The Birkdale half of the bill has fallen by the wayside, but the Manor main attraction prevails. As the CFS prepares to kick off its fifth year with this format, we figured now was a good time to corner some of the board members -- specifically, president Joe Alvarez, vice-president Robert Reimer and treasurer Brad Ritter -- and get some answers regarding the series' past, the format's future, and exactly why it's a good idea for every Charlotte movie aficionado to rush out and snag a membership card.

The CFS began the Second Week format back in the fall of 2000. How successful has this format been, and do you anticipate making any changes to it?

It's been very successful! The Second Week series has been instrumental in meeting our primary goal as a film society: to bring alternative cinema to Charlotte that most likely would not have come otherwise. Another goal of ours was to increase our presence in the city, and with the help and support of Eastern Federal Corporation (which owns and runs the Manor Theatre), as well as our other sponsors (including WFAE, VisArt Video and Creative Loafing), we've been generally pleased overall. So at this point, we don't envision any changes to our current program format.

Have there been any titles that the CFS wanted to book but wasn't able to, for one reason or another?

The primary factor in booking our films is quality -- if there's a title we're excited about, we'll try our hardest to bring it to Charlotte. The only title we couldn't get was an African film named Genesis. Since the Manor had a different projection set-up than what the distributor wanted, they asked for an absurd guarantee that we were uncomfortable paying.

Occasionally, cost will become an issue, but that's rare. And every once in a while, we run into print availability problems. For instance, we tried to bring in Fellini's I Vitelloni this summer, but because of the limited number of prints, could not.

The Second Chance section of the schedule got dropped before the summer season. Was it simply a matter of not enough people attending the films at the Birkdale theater?

Unfortunately, we could never build the support for the Second Chance series that we needed for it to be successful. We had hoped the Davidson community would get excited about it, but that never panned out. Actually, the Second Chance series was originally proposed by Eastern Federal (which owns and manages Movies at Birkdale) to the CFS in order to expand art film into that demographic.

Is most of your business through subscriptions, or do you have a lot of individual walk-ups?

Overall, walk-ups average 60 to 70 percent of all admissions. Although we're happy with the success of Second Week, we also want the public to understand that our only revenue comes from member support; we don't receive any portion of walk-up ticket sales. We're surprised more patrons don't purchase memberships since they can save quite a lot of money and support the CFS at the same time. Maybe they don't fully understand the concept that the coupons are good for 12 months and can be shared amongst their friends.

So besides getting to screen the CFS films, what are some of the other benefits of a CFS membership that Charlotte moviegoers may not know about?

The primary benefit is the reduced ticket price. Also, members receive a "matinee-all-day" price on regular run Manor films (i.e., evening movies at lower afternoon prices). VisArt Video offers CFS members the discount of every fifth rental free, and our members are also eligible for free invitations to special theatrical screenings throughout the year.

Have there been any complaints, walk-outs or, God forbid, death threats because of any of the films you've screened?

Most complaints have centered on the number of films screened in a given month. It's extremely difficult for many of us to catch three or four films in a seven-day span, so it's become important for the Film Society to schedule the films in a format where each picture is given its share of favorable show times. For example, in the case of Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut, this movie will attract more of a younger, college-aged audience. Therefore, we scheduled more late night screenings of it since the college crowd likes to see films later in the evening.

The second most common complaint is the lack of discussion time after a screening. A lot of films we bring in could and should be open to a discussion group after the screening. Unfortunately, at the present time, there's no venue close by that can accommodate post-film chats. But we hope that in the not too distant future, such a place will present itself.

Probably the most controversial film we've played is Divine Intervention [a surreal tragicomedy about Israeli-Palestinian tensions], which had several walkouts but no death threats. Overall, our audience is well educated and knows going into a given film what to expect -- hence, there's been little uproar.

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