Those who have followed our area's independent cinema world for the past decade know the name Reel Savannah. That nonprofit organization offered the most high-profile series of specialty film screenings in town since the 1990s when the now long-gone City Lights Theater occasionally screened classics on 16mm in their Broughton Street space (now home to the R.O.S.E. Public House restaurant).
The Reel Savannah Film Group made a big splash with its initial offering at The Lucas Theatre, Michael Moore's caustic, opinionated and provocative documentary "Bowling For Columbine," which drew such a turnout for its single-show engagement that it sold out the 1,200-seat venue. Organizers hastily added a second screening that night, which was also well attended, and the financial windfall from those two shows essentially floated their endeavor for many years, while they presented a steady stream of well-regarded foreign and independent titles to various degrees of interest and attendance.
Hitting one out of the park - as Reel Savannah did with the Moore film - is an incredibly rare occurrence. That stunning success had perhaps as much to do with an almost cosmic convergence of national publicity, controversy and effusive praise for "Bowling" from esteemed film critics as it did with local frustration over our area's lack of regular access to critically acclaimed films which exist outside of the mainstream. The organizers learned that fact over time, as many of the challenging - and at times, almost completely under-the-radar - films they brought to town at a variety of venues failed to draw enough viewers to break even, regardless of those features' artistic merit.
Eventually, after many years of bringing high-quality film programming to our area, the Reel Savannah name went dormant. Whether or not the organization still exists in some tangible form is not clear. However, the gap left by their seeming dissolution has been ably filled by CinemaSavannah, an ongoing concern which is extremely similar in style and substance.
That's because it's led by Tomasz Warchol, the same literate and passionate film-loving academic who'd curated Reel Savannah's series from its inception.
Through CinemaSavannah, Warchol, a Polish-born college professor who teaches film studies (among other things) at Georgia Southern University, presents an ongoing selection of notable, first-run titles that would otherwise never play big screens in our market. Normally, his offerings only screen for one night only. However, once in a while, he'll help promote a worthwhile title an existing venue is already bringing to town.
This week, he does just that when CinemaSavannah presents the opening night of Woody Allen's latest dramedy "Blue Jasmine" at the Spotlight Theatre on Eisenhower Drive. Critics are lining up to call this one of Allen's finest pictures in many years, and it's the sort of film Warchol would do his best to present independently if no one else in the area was showing it. Truth be told, only after agreeing to help promote this engagement at Spotlight (which has a reputation as the city's "forgotten" cinema due to the small crowds it draws in comparison to other southside multiplexes), Warchol learned at least one other local theater will be competing with him/them by offering the film, as well.
Which begs the question: If you want to see this movie in a theater, why should you make a point to see it at Spotlight, and specifically at 7:15 p.m. Aug. 23?
Well, cost, for one thing. Spotlight's business has been so slow they have routinely offered a discount package on Groupon combining an adult movie ticket and a large popcorn for only $5 total. That's an insane deal, and the odds are you or someone you know has taken advantage of this. So pull some out of the drawer or convince a friend to use their passes to treat you on the cheap.
The movie (which stars Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K., Bobby Cannavale and - in a rare dramatic turn - Andrew Dice Clay) will continue to screen for a full week afterward. However, if there is a strong turnout for that 7:15 p.m. Aug. 23 show, Spotlight has promised to share a small portion of the proceeds with Warchol's organization.
So, do Tomasz a mitzvah! Support his worthwhile endeavor, and share this info with any acquaintances you know dig Woody. Tell them Film Scene sent you.
In other news, the Psychotronic Film Society offers two little-known features this week at The Sentient Bean that have never been released on DVD anywhere in the world: one very good and one enjoyably bad.
On Aug. 25, it's a 42nd anniversary screening of the criminally unknown 1971 French crime thriller "Without Apparent Motive," starring Jean-Louis Trintignant (European Best Actor Award-winner for his role in 2012's "Amour") and Dominique Sanda ("The Garden of the Finzi-Continis"). This rare widescreen print is in spoken French with English subtitles, and is suitable for mature audiences only. $7 admission, 8 p.m. showtime.
On Aug. 28 it's the campy, live-action superhero romp "The Three Fantastic Supermen," a Yugoslavian oddity from 1967 mixing the Euro-spy espionage of a low-budget James Bond knock-off with the cartoonish acrobatic stunts popularized by Adam West's pop-art "Batman" TV series. Dubbed poorly in English, it's a guilty pleasure for fans of hokey, Saturday matinee fluff. $6 admission, 8 p.m. showtime for ages 14 and older.
See you at the movies, and don't forget to turn off your cellphone.
Jim Reed directs the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah - presenting indie, foreign, classic and cult cinema year-round. Read more from Jim at filmsavannah.com.
What: "Blue Jasmine"
When: 7:15 p.m. Aug. 23
Where: Spotlight Theatre, 1100 Eisenhower Drive
Cost: Regular admission prices
What: "Without Apparent Motive"
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 25
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
Cost: $7; mature audiences only
What: "The Three Fantastic Supermen"
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 28
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.