Community members working to revitalize their downtown often reminisce of Saturdays when residents poured into the streets. Frequently the movies are part of those recollections, and the black and white photos show it to be the case. People crowd the sidewalks, and on the marquee above them: Double Indemnity, Singing in the Rain, Some Like it Hot.
These classic films are also listed on the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. Begun in 1989, the list grows by 25 titles each year, reaching 550 this month. No matter what your film preference, you’ll find a favorite on the list: B films and musicals, mysteries and animated features, documentaries and melodramas. One will be there that changed your view of the world. (For me it was Number 360: Paths of Glory.) Film still matters, and it still matters downtown.
In Culpeper, the 1938 art deco State Theatre is undergoing a $10 million dollar renovation. This Designated Virginia Main Street Community is teaming The State with another community asset: the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at the nearby Packard Campus of Library of Congress. Already drawing film buffs from around the Mid-Atlantic, Culpeper is uniquely positioned to spotlight film as part of our shared downtown experience.
They are not alone: a number of Virginia’s traditional commercial districts still have active movie palaces, and many more have jewels with the potential for restoration and use as multi-function community facilities. But with so many home viewing options available to film lovers, the challenge is to engage movie-goers in a different way by hosting film festivals, special screenings, panel discussions, and showings for targeted audiences.
Try partnering with a local film club or community college in developing programs. Introduce each screening and greet the audience. Use it to start a community discussion. The goal can’t just be to bring people downtown: use this resource as another opportunity to create community among those sitting together in the dark.