I’ve witnessed some strange sights during free movie screenings. I saw a fistfight between audience members at a screening of the mercifully forgotten “Stone Cold” Steve Austin-starrer The Condemned. I’ve seen a couple dump a large tub of popcorn into a backpack, so as to hit the counter again for a refill. There were security folks outfitted with night vision goggles to make sure no one was bootlegging Tim Allen in The Shaggy Dog. (Don’t laugh—they all wind up in circulation on the web in bootleg form these days, even the Allen oeuvre.) And I once witnessed a female senior citizen literally dive out of a wheelchair in an attempt to snag a free t-shirt advertising the piece of bullet-ridden garbage that was Shoot ’Em Up. (Where was she planning to wear this? The gun range?)
But guess what, folks: It’s all worth it—if you want to see a flick for free, that is.
Invites are a perk of being a “distinguished” member of the press, and freelance film critic. But free passes can be picked up at random locations throughout the area, and it also pays to keep an eye on the Buffalo News and Artvoice for announcements. One unique site that came my way during the past few years was Gofobo. It’s a site that offers passes to free screenings of soon-to-be-released films, at theaters throughout WNY. For example, on a late-June afternoon, I went to gofobo.com, entered the 14226 area code, and found three screenings listed—two for the Jennifer Aniston-vehicle Horrible Bosses and one for the Kevin James nightmare Zookeeper. My experiment showed that Zookeeper passes were all gone, and Bosses was listed as a “private screening,” but interestingly, two days later, I received an e-mail with an invite to a screening of the Justin Timberlake-Mila Kunis F-buddy romp Friends with Benefits. But damn, the passes go fast. Honestly, unless you check within minutes of your e-mail’s arrival, chances are you’ll be out of luck.
If I may, a few tips for the free-screening novice:
• Go early. The passes never promise admission, just the possibility of admission, and these screenings fill up quickly. Is it a 7 p.m. movie? Plan to arrive by 6:15 if you’re bold, 6 p.m. if you’re smart. So be prepared to wait. (If I calculated the sheer amount of time I have waited for films to start, I would probably burst into tears.)
• Don’t bring your phone in. Many security folks now ask attendees to leave them in the car, and will often perform pat-downs and use metal detectors. Some will allow the phone inside, but it’s probably easier to avoid the hassle.
• Pay attention to what you’re seeing. I can vividly recall the sight of several sweet-looking old women nestling into their seats for a screening of Borat, and leaving with the expression of a shell-shocked post-bombing Dresden-ite. A quick bit of online searching will likely indicate whether or not a film is geared toward you and your companions.
I asked Dipson Theatres president Mike Clement about Dipson’s deals; as a Facebook friend, I had noticed several during recent weeks. “We have several Facebook promotions that run all month long for ‘fans’ at each location,” Clement says. “The winners normally receive a free offer to a Dipson Theatre.” He adds that Tuesdays feature half-price popcorn and soda, “as well as discounted admission prices for participating film companies all day.”
As for free screenings, some of which are held at Dipson Theatres, Clement says “that seventy-five-percent of the time the film companies or the advertising company decides how to distribute the tickets, but they do request that we do it as well from time to time. Again, we usually would post this on Facebook for the appropriate theater. … At McKinley Mall and Lakewood Cinema every Saturday and Sunday we have a ‘cheap,’ children’s themed movie. The cost is $2 per person. [It’s] a great way to introduce toddlers to the movies.” Considering how overwhelming the big screen can be on wee first-time moviegoers, it might be the most sensible way, period. (Speaking of kids and family deals, see sidebar.)
In many ways Facebook has become a wonderful resource for freebie-seeking film fans. The Buffalo International Film Festival will often send screening details on the social network to those who sign up on buffalofilmfest.com, and I’m sure there are others in WNY, also.
Bacchus (54 W. Chippewa, www.ultimaterestaurants.com/bacchus) has been offering free films in its courtyard since the days it was still the Calumet Arts Café and “the Chip Strip” was in its infancy. They skipped their series this past summer due to renovations, but Calumet kingpin Mark Goldman’s Allen Street Hardware (245 Allen St., www.allenstreethardware.com) has stepped in with “the Backroom,” described thusly: “[It] is precisely that … a back room behind Allen Street Hardware Café. It is also the latest (and greatest) gallery and movie viewing venue in Buffalo. The Backroom boasts a sweet video projection system and superb sound system plus comfy padded chairs. Every seat is a good seat.” Cool, and even cooler was the line-up, which featured Kubrick, Gilliam, Cronenberg, and the Coens, among others.
Meanwhile, the Riviera Theatre (67 Webster, North Tonawanda; www.rivieratheater.org) has a long history of special programming tied to themes (most recently, a given year or actor, though they occasionally make use of their unique ability to showcase silent films properly). This past summer’s annual series turned its attention to Barbara Streisand, who I hear is also a singer of some note. (To me, she’ll always be the star/director of The Mirror Has Two Faces.) The final film of the Babs-fest is The Way We Were, on September 1, and next summer’s theme should be announced early in 2012. Tickets are just 3 bucks, and while that isn’t free, who can argue with a ticket for $3?
So free—and cheap—films are available. They just take some hustling.
Christopher Schobert doesn’t make it to as many films as he used to.