The Daily Gamecock

Nickelodeon Theatre exceptional in the South

	<p>Row of seats at Columbia&#8217;s own Nickelodeon Theatre</p>
Row of seats at Columbia’s own Nickelodeon Theatre

Local movie theater unique in prestige and opportunities

The story of how Columbia’s Nickelodeon Theatre landed the New York Film Critics Series isn’t glamorous, but the series itself is.

The exclusive film series streams advance screenings of upcoming films to theaters across the country from a New York City theater. When the Nickelodeon’s film booker contacted the theater’s programming director, Janell Rohan, about joining the series, only a few spots remained, and there were strict requirements for theaters that wanted to participate.

Rohan then emailed series producer Mark Ehrenkranz expressing the Nickelodeon’s interest. Ehrenkranz had some questions first.

What’s the theater’s download speed? Does the theater have the ability to charge for subscription packages? Would the theater’s patrons pay $18 per ticket for the series?

The Nickelodeon passed the test — and then came the glamorous part. The only participating theater in South Carolina, the Nickelodeon participated in the film series for the first time last month, streaming “At Middleton” to a nearly sold-out crowd in a room that seats 99.
Landing events like the film series has helped South Carolina’s only nonprofit art house theater raise its profile in the independent theater industry.

“It’s really exciting just because this is something that you would typically see in a larger cultural market like New York or Chicago,” Rohan said. “For our theater to get it means that our patrons will have the chance to see films that may never actually be able to come to the Nickelodeon, but they’ll have an opportunity to preview it during the series.”

Because of the Nickelodeon’s limitations with having only one screen, the series gives the theater an opportunity to show films it might not otherwise book. Had the theater been involved in the series earlier, its patrons would have had the opportunity to stream an advance screening of the Oscar-nominated film “American Hustle,” which the theater didn’t show.

After the movie, actors from the film and the director discuss the movie with Peter Travers, film critic and senior editor for film at Rolling Stone magazine, at the theater in New York. Patrons watching from across the country can tweet their questions and comments, and some are read live.
The film series has been live in New York for the past 20 years, but it started streaming to about 50 theaters across the country in November with “Nebraska.”

Previous films in the series include “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Anna Karenina” and “The Artist.”
Series producer Ehrenkranz said he isn’t sure what movie will be screened next, but he expects that the next screening will be in early March. The series aims to have a screening once a month.
“This puts them in an elite group,” said Ken May, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Commission. “This series is something they’ve earned through some of the things they’ve put on through Indie Grits.”

The success of the Nickelodeon-hosted Indie Grits film festival has helped the theater gain recognition in the industry as well as more opportunities to participate in more exclusive film series.

When Nickelodeon executive director Andy Smith attended the Art House Convergence conference in the past, he was happy to simply be a participant. But last year, he was invited to be a panelist at the conference.

It has also helped the surrounding Main Street community, which marketing director Philippe Herndon said is part of the theater’s mission.

The Nickelodeon moved to its current location on the 1600 block of Main Street over a year ago, and it’s one of only a few business in the area that’s open during the evening.

One of its neighbors, The Columbia Museum of Art is open in the evening on some special occasions, and there are some restaurants in the area, but the majority of businesses aren’t open after 5 p.m., so the theater helps bring people to the area in the evening. May said the increased traffic helps the area to feel safe because it doesn’t feel so “desolate.”

It also follows suit with the other events on the street that support alternative art, like First Thursdays on Main, a three-block festival on the first Thursday of every month that’s a collaboration between local merchants and artists.

“I would consider [the Nickelodeon] to be a major rock,” said Mark Plessinger, owner of Frame of Mind. “They hold down what I would consider to be a unique piece of the art scene that not very many cities have. There’s nobody else in South Carolina that has that piece. It gives us a unique flavor that you’re just not going to find in many other places in the United States.”


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