Ten reasons why 2017 will be a great year for cinephiles
Tracey B. Wilson, star of Trew Calling, takes a selfie with friends on the BIFF red carpet.
Photos by Summer Oliver
January is a rather quiet month for screenings, so it’s a fine time to look at the entire year ahead, and reflect a bit on the previous twelve months. If you love cinema, there’s plenty to be excited about in 2017.
Year eleven for the Buffalo International Film Festival: There was no clearer sign that the Buffalo International Festival was in good hands than its choice of opening film: Tyler Hubby’s documentary Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present. This long-awaited portrait of the experimental filmmaker and University at Buffalo professor was a bold, brilliant pick, and it wasn’t the only festival standout; the partly animated documentary Tower, for example, ranks among 2016’s most acclaimed films. With a great lineup that featured several local productions, some ideal venues (the North Park, Hallwalls, Squeaky Wheel), and visiting filmmakers from around the world, the annual festival was an undeniable success. It was also a fitting tribute to late founder Ed Summer. Speaking to festival programmer John Fink a few days after BIFFX, it was clear the organizers were already thinking of next year: “At our 2017 festival, you’ll find films that might not otherwise screen in WNY front and center on the big screen along with engaging panels and events that celebrate diverse and underrepresented voices, emerging talent, and WNY’s film industry.” BIFF executive director Raymond Guarnieri says the dates for 2017 are set—October 6 to 9—and that the program will be announced in late summer with tickets on sale at buffalointernationalfilmfestival.com in September. (Organizers will once again offer a “Bison Pass” with unlimited screening access. At an advance price of $35, it’s a steal.) If 2016 is any indication, BIFF has officially staked its claim as the local film festival. It’s incredibly exciting to see what transpired this past October, and to ponder what’s to come.
Director Marc Noworyta and writer Amber Smith of Circuit Sizzle on the red carpet accepting the 2016 Gold Bison: Supersnipe Award for Animation
The (expected) release of Marshall: Buffalo was buzzing over the summer with the news that Marshall, director Reginald Hudlin’s film about the early career of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, was shooting throughout the area. Stars Chadwick Boseman (an actor on the verge of mega-stardom as Marvel’s Black Panther), Kate Hudson, and the rest of the cast had lovely things to say about the Queen City. But when will we actually get to see Marshall on the big screen? As of press time, no date was set. However, distribution rights were already snapped up by Open Road Films, the studio of Oscar winner Spotlight, so a 2017 release is likely.
Diverse pleasures from Dipson: Dipson Theatres cinemas continue to find a nice balance between older-skewing independent films, hot-button documentaries, and ongoing series like Thursday Night Terrors. Marketing and promotions coordinator Jeremy Mills says some of Dipson’s biggest hits in 2016 involved established longtime favorites: Tom Hanks (Sully), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), Sally Field (Hello, My Name Is Doris), Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van), and, of course, the Beatles (Ron Howard’s hit documentary Eight Days a Week).
Did the switch to larger, reclining seats at the Amherst Dipson help at the box office? It’s certainly possible, especially when it comes to the Buffalo Film Seminars series. But just as pleasing is the success of one-off screenings like the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ doc One More Time With Feeling. “We partnered with Record Theatre to give that screening even more of a ‘live show’ vibe, and they outdid themselves by providing a ‘merch table’ that included the brand new LP and most of Cave’s discography as well,” Mills says, adding, “offering titles that appeal to both music fans and filmgoers is something we’re happy to keep exploring, and we’ve got more music-centric screenings planned with Record Theatre in the near future.” Mills is also excited to see the Cultivate Cinema Circle and Thursday Night Terrors series continue at the Amherst.
A second installment of Thursday Night Terrors: Organizer Peter Vullo’s horror series was a smash, drawing solid audiences for films like Fright Night and The Thing. Vullo says it exceeded all expectations thanks to the passionate community of horror fans in Buffalo. Therefore, another season will be on its way. “I hope to make the series better with each successive screening,” he says. “I think the success of Thursday Night Terrors shows that there’s a place for every genre of film in Buffalo. It’s just a matter of reaching that audience and playing the films they want to see. There’s room to experiment and expand. It’s a beautiful time to be a film lover in Buffalo.”
A busier-than-ever North Park Theatre: The North Park was hot in 2016; October even saw it host a screening of the first presidential debate. In addition to the theater’s usual selection of current independent films, the popular Family Matinee series and ultra-cool Neon Fever will continue. The latter saw screenings of such sci-fi and neo-noir classics as Blade Runner and Akira. Program director Ray Barker says, “2017 will be another exciting year for the North Park. In addition to bringing highly anticipated, Oscar-nominated films early in the year, we plan on bringing a director to the North Park in summer 2017 who was previously nominated for an Academy Award himself.” That’s a very cool teaser.
Comfy seats at the Regal Cinemas: Visitors to the Walden Galleria Mall cinema in recent months know the changeover to big comfy recliners has already taken place. A May Buffalo News article said all area Regal cinemas were expected to have these seats by October 2016, but, as of press time, there were no new updates. Still, you can probably expect to see the Regal theaters in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Orchard Park, and Williamsville getting real comfy real soon.
More treats from the Roycroft Film Society, the Old Chestnut Film Society, the Buffalo Film Seminars, Squeaky Wheel, Hallwalls, etc.: It might seem as if the number of screenings of new, recent, and classic films in the Buffalo area has exploded in recent months. While there are certainly some new kids on the block, the folks mentioned here have been killing it for years. Keep checking this column in print and online for their latest events and screenings.
Another summer of outdoor cinema: From Bacchus to UB to Canalside and beyond, the number of venues offering outdoor screenings is greater than ever before. Watching films under the stars is now a Buffalo tradition.
New offerings from Cultivate Cinema Circle: The most recent CCC season featured a salute to Robert Altman, and the subjects for potential future series include Michael Mann, Alfred Hitchcock, and Roberto Rossellini. CCC organizers Jordan Smith and Jared Mobarak say they plan to continue screenings at the Dipson Amherst, Burning Books, and North Park. They also invite fans to tweet (@CultivateCinema), email (email@example.com), or post (facebook.com/cultivatecinemacircle) suggestions for future films.
The fate of the Market Arcade may (or may not) be determined: So this is not a prediction, merely a hope. Not long after Main Street’s Market Arcade cinema closed its doors in 2014, there was talk of the AMC chain taking over the space. While AMC is an imperfect choice—the spot has always made most sense as a site for independent and small-scale films, rather than Transformers 7—it was nevertheless an exciting development. Fast-forward two years and … nothing. As of late September, a sign on the building still read “The facility is expected to reopen under new ownership by early 2015.” Meanwhile, a now hilariously dated feature in Buffalo Business First from February 2016 stated that “the theater could, potentially, be reopened by late summer or early fall in time to show such anticipated releases as the Ghostbusters reboot, Star Trek Beyond, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2.” Insert shoulder-shrugging emoji here. Let’s hope 2017 is the year of the Market Arcade’s rebirth as a site for cinema. Better late than never.
Christopher Schobert is a film critic for the Buffalo News and other outlets.