It’s been two months since Charlotte’s last art house cinema, the Manor Twin theater, closed its doors for good, leaving a void in the city’s art scene. Since then, the Charlotte Film Society has quietly made plans to open a nonprofit art house movie theater with three screens in NoDa.
It would be the first of its kind in Charlotte: Untethered to a corporate owner, woven into the city’s arts community, dedicated to cinematic education. The facility would be a place not only for screening big independent and foreign art house films like Parasite and Jojo Rabbit, but also a place where local filmmakers can come screen their work and host film festivals.
The movie theater will be at 4237 Raleigh Street, an existing industrial building that’ll be revamped near the Sugar Creek light rail station. The property is part of a major redevelopment by The Flywheel Group called the Greenway District, comprising dozens of acres that will make up a small town center with multi-family housing, retail, and office space.
Eventually, the Cross Charlotte Trail will run in front of the building that’ll house the cinema.
That area is just a few blocks from the heart of NoDa, formerly home to numerous art galleries that gave the neighborhood its funky vibe. Already the theater’s area has an artsy feel: It’s close to Station House, which houses The Shed amphitheater and Charlotte Art League.
“The whole area is starting to become this organically growing arts district again. The (Charlotte Film Society) coming in just helps confirm that,” says Tony Kuhn, president of The Flywheel Group.
To purchase projection equipment and to outfit the space, the Charlotte Film Society, a 501(c)(3) that formed in 1982, is launching a fundraising effort with an initial goal of $150,000.
Its website can be found here. The initial fundraising round will act as a “cushion” to build off, says Jay Morong, the society’s program director.
“If we can get that kind of money from the community, it will allow us to go to some larger entities to try to fundraise at a larger level and say ‘Look, the community’s really supporting this with $50 here, $25 there. It’s clear that they want this,'” Morong says.
The plan is to open sometime in the summer or fall of 2021. The timing works out rather well, since the ongoing coronavirus pandemic requires movie theaters to remain closed still. Even then, moviegoers may not be packing into theaters anytime soon once cinemas can reopen.
(The theater won’t be called the Trailhead Cinema; that name included in the renderings is a placeholder).
[Agenda related story: The beloved Manor Theatre will close after 73 years in Myers Park]
When it comes to interior furnishings, the new theater isn’t starting from scratch.
The old Manor Theatre’s property’s owners wanted the building cleared immediately. Most of what was inside was bound for the dumpsters.
So the Charlotte Film Society salvaged everything it could, from the Manor’s seats and curtains to its popcorn machine. Those elements — parts of what gave the Manor its distinct look and personality, will go into the new theater in NoDa/
Each of the theater’s two larger auditoriums will have 90-100 seats, all original from the Manor.
“It’s going to be really cool when we open up. You’ll walk into the two larger auditoriums and it’ll feel like walking into the Manor,” says Brad Ritter, who managed the Manor from 1999 until its closure this spring. He’ll act as the manager of the new theater in NoDa, too.
The third auditorium will be smaller, Ritter says, with about 30 plush new seats. The theater itself will also have a bar serving beer and wine, Ritter says, “like all art houses should.”
In opening a separate nonprofit art house, the Charlotte Film Society is not necessarily trying to resurrect the Manor, which first opened in April 1947. Rather, Morong says, the goal is to keep the Manor’s spirit alive.
For a long time, before Regal Entertainment took over, the Manor was the de-facto home of the Charlotte Film Society. The society bounced around over the years, screening independent films and hosting events at different independent art houses around town. It never really had a home base, though its members wanted one.
But in recent months, those independent venues started closing.
In late 2017, Park Terrace at Park Road Shopping Center closed. Several months later, it reopened under new ownership, AMC, which converted it into a high-end, modern theater that shows mainstream movies. Earlier this year, the Regal Ballantyne Village closed. Citing the pandemic, Regal announced the closure of the Manor in late May.
The Manor hurt the most, and it capped a sad milestone for the city’s movie industry. In the span of about 27 months, Charlotte went from 13 screens that specialize in independent and foreign films to zero.
Charlotte is the 14th largest city in the nation. Any a major city needs this kind of art house theater, Morong says. Even smaller cities in the Carolinas — such as Asheville, Cary, Chapel Hill, Columbia, and Winston-Salem — have this type of venue.
“It’s unfathomable, as somebody who loves film, as somebody who lives in a rising Southern city, to not have a dedicated (art house) space,” Morong says.
“If we’re not thinking about how we can do this, no one else is. We kind of said ‘Look, we really need to stop talking about it and start actually trying to plan on how to make this happen.'”