Though the Lumière brothers and Thomas Edison are often credited with groundbreaking discoveries that paved the way for modern cinema, history sometimes leaves out a key player: photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Commissioned to find out whether horses lifted all four legs off the ground while galloping, Muybridge invented a device called the zoopraxiscope to display his photographed findings. His first zoopraxiscope screening was held in Palo Alto in 1879, making the city the birthplace of film. To honor Muybridge’s work, as well as the technological innovations bubbling throughout Silicon Valley, the Palo Alto International Film Festival was born in 2011. It focuses not only on new technology, but on breakthroughs in artistic expression, screening a collection of films from around the world. They range from major Hollywood releases, such as 2012’s Looper, to independent works, such as George Lucas’s home videos of himself practicing light-saber moves in his garage. Outside the theater, visitors can mingle at an array of talks, film workshops, and parties.
Established in 1919 and under the same local ownership since 1964, 4-Star Theatre specializes in independent and foreign films while also showing major studio releases. Touted by many sources as the best place to see Asian cinema in California, the quaint art house runs regular Asian film series showcasing reels old, new, and from 2067. Coming features include Echoes of the Rainbow, the winner of a Crystal Bear at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, which tells the story of a working Hong Kong family whose eldest son becomes sick with leukemia. Legend of The Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is a raucous martial-arts adventure, elaborating on a role made famous by Bruce Lee in Fists of Fury. You can also see documentaries such as The Future of Food and We Are Skateboarders as well as blockbusters such as the second Wall Street installment and the CGI explosion-filled remake of On Golden Pond.
Hailed as one of America’s “coolest film festivals” by MovieMaker Magazine, the Disposable Film Festival celebrates and showcases the world’s best no-budget filmmaking. The festival culls its selections from short films shot on inexpensive equipment such as cell phones, still cameras, and webcams, giving audience to a new brood of cinematic mavericks unfettered by major studios, movie stars, or caterers who never bring enough bagels. Grab a fellow cineaste and eyeball the work of shoestring Scorceses and Bergmanesque Skypers as the 2011 festival kicks off with the competitive shorts program at the grand, lavish Castro Theater. A panel of experts appraises each film, and one diminutive flick is selected by the masses to receive an Audience Choice Award, giving laypeople a taste of the judgmental fun that movie critics, mothers-in-law, and sanctimonious squirrels enjoy every day. A festival T-shirt and tote bag help opening-night attendees reminisce about the evening's miniature masterpieces, and an online gallery of past competitors provides a glimpse of the sort of artistry audiences can expect. After the show enjoy complimentary appetizers and wine from Four Vines Naked Chardonnay, Mark West Pinot Noir, and Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon at the Lookout.
On a mild February day in 1926, San Francisco theater magnate Samuel H. Levin address an anxious crowd of cinemagoers at the opening of his newest movie house. Ever the family man, Levin saw himself as a man providing entertainment for all ages. "In the New Balboa, as in all my theaters," he said, "I seek to supply the comforts and intimate surroundings associated with the higher ideals of home life."
Nearly 100 years later, the lights of the Balboa Theatre's maquee still burn against the night sky, calling patrons into a cozy cinema suffuse with classic designs pulled from the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, these historical flourishes belie the modern innovations behind the scenes. The theatre was completely overhauled in 2011, with technicians retrofitting each auditorium with state-of-the-art digital sound and projection systems.
This technological refresher helps the Balboa continue its main mission: showcasing must-see movies. These often take the form of first-run blockbusters, but the Balboa doesn't simply mimic the faceless megaplexes. Family films, motion-picture classics, and buzzed-about documentaries all find a place on the theater's twin screens, celebrating both the film world's diversity and the Balboa's original purpose.
Did you know that, on average, 88% of the seats in a movie theater remain empty during a showing? According to the New York Times, this phenomenon really surprised Sean Wycliffe a few years back when he went to see the Oscar-winning film The King's Speech and shared the theater with only two other audience members. With all the focus on online video services, Sean realized movie theaters were being overlooked, and came up with a concept that could help movie houses fill their empty seats.
His brainchild became Dealflicks, a website that offers customers discounted tickets (sometimes with popcorn or soda) for same-day showings. Customers shop a selection of deals, each of which is specific to a particular film, theater, and showtime, and upon purchase, receive an email voucher they present at the theater's ticket counter. Dealflicks is partnered with theaters around the country, particularly independent and neighborhood venues, such as the treehouse of the enterprising kid down the street.