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Celebrate Art House Theater Day This Sunday At Digital Gym Cinema

Enjoy the classic film noir ‘Pitfall’ as well as other indie titles

Photo credit: United Artist

Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr define classic noir in "Pitfall," screening Sunday, Sept. 23 as part of Art House Theater Day at Digital Gym Cinema.

Art House Convergence is holding its third annual Art House Theater Day on Sunday, Sept. 23 and Digital Gym Cinema is representing San Diego with the noir classic “Pitfall.”

Art House Convergence is an international organization of independent, community-based, and mission-driven movie theaters. One hundred and fifty theaters across the U.S. will be participating in this year’s Art House Theater Day.

“The DGC was founded five years ago by the leadership managing the long-running arts non-profit Media Arts Center San Diego (MACSD)," Digital Gym Cinema’s Moisés Esparza said.

"This organization's core mission is to provide film education — through filmmaking workshops and exhibition opportunities — to under-resourced and marginalized communities in San Diego so that they, in turn, can create cinematic representations of their own experiences and promote social change. The Digital Gym Cinema's commitment to this mission is what sets it apart from other local venues — we program with a purpose.

"We hope our films deepen the public's knowledge of film history, genres, and sensibilities but also embolden them to create their own art through the exposure of current and past, unique and progressive voices in world cinema. Our programming should serve as a beacon of inspiration for emerging filmmakers and cinephiles, which we hope is evident by our selection of films during Art House Theater Day and beyond. We are thrilled to be a part of a passionate community of film lovers and hope to enrich their lives for many years to come,” Esparza said.

Art House Theater Day co-director Gabriel Chicoine states on the website, “Art House Theater Day gives film lovers the chance to celebrate the physical spaces where cinema truly comes alive. Now, more than ever, the world needs thought-provoking, meaningful and life-changing art, and the venues in which to experience it. Art House Theater Day acknowledges the vibrant and multi-faceted independent film culture that can only exist with the support of intrepid filmmakers, exhibitors and most importantly — audiences.”

San Diego has other cinemas (notably Landmark, Angelika, and Arclight) that pride themselves is showcasing art house and independent fare.

Landmark’s Ken Cinema treats us with fabulous classic film weeks and midnight movies on a regular basis in addition to its regular weekly engagements of new films. Arclight focuses mostly on new movies but also makes time for some older titles, but mostly proven favorites. Angelika also fills its cinemas with mostly current releases but makes time for some inventive programming like its annual Hitchcocktober film series that starts next month.

Photo credit: Paramount

James Stewart stars in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window," which kicks off Anjelika Film Center's Hitchcocktober film series on Oct. 4.

But Digital Gym Cinema, located on El Cajon Boulevard, is unique. It is not part of a larger theater chain and at a mere 46 seats, it continues to deliver robust film programming knowing that it will likely lose money on many titles. That is not your typical business model. The cinema is run by the non-profit organization Media Arts Center San Diego, which also sponsors the San Diego Latino Film Festival and runs the Teen Producers Project.

Executive Director Ethan Van Thillo wanted the DGC to be a community theater that runs films every day and all day so that people from the community can walk in almost any time and catch a movie.

Esparza is the passionate and diligent film programmer who books a wide range of foreign, independent, documentary and repertory titles, some of which would never play in San Diego if it wasn’t for his sharp eye looking for the best of the non-mainstream market.

I do have to confess that Digital Gym Cinema also provides a home to Film Geeks SD, a local group of volunteer programmers that I am a part of. Film Geeks SD is dedicated to bringing innovative programming to San Diego and to providing a context for the films that are screened. Every year the group (which also includes Miguel Rodriguez of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival and Michael McQuiggan of FilmOut) programs one year-long film series along with numerous one-off events.

The group engages with patrons at the cinema and through social media so that it’s the people who attend who help decide what films are shown. San Diego cinephiles voted to have a year of John Carpenter films in 2017 and a year of film noir for 2018. The vote for next year’s film series theme will take place on Facebook later this month.

Film Geeks is closing out its year of film noir in which a classic noir screened one Sunday afternoon each month and a contemporary noir ran every other month on a Monday night. In addition, and in order to provide a broader context, it is running a Noir Book Club featuring the hard-boiled fiction the films were based on and hosted by local writer D.A. Kolodenko.

This Sunday, for Art House Theater Day, Film Geeks is showing the rarely screened noir gem “Pitfall.” The film stars femme fatale Lizabeth Scott, former song and dance man Dick Powell and Perry Mason’s Raymond Burr.

Photo credit: United Artists

The lobby card for the film noir "Pitfall."

One thing I adore about these classic noirs is the posters and ads for them. The tagline for “Pitfall” reads: “A man can be strong as steel but somewhere there’s a woman who’ll break him.” They don’t write copy like that anymore and as sensational as that line is it actually serves up a pretty accurate description of noir.

Jay Dratler adapts his novel of the same name to the screen with an eye to what can bring a person — particularly men with a violent streak — to their boiling point. The film sets up a stark contrast between the suburban sanctuary of the opening scenes and the netherworld that exist just below. In some ways that’s what makes it more subversive, that it dares to suggest that such violence and moral ambiguity does not only exist strictly in shady alleys and seedy nightclubs but can also corrupt and poison the American Dream.

Celebrate Art House Theater Day by joining me for “Pitfall” at 1 p.m., Sunday or for “We The Animals” or “Bel Canto” also playing at DGC.

Esparza added that it is really a day to thank the people who support DGC.

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