There is an embarrassment of riches in terms of quality content to bring to Baton Rouge. We want local audiences to have access to the best films and cultural events the world has to offer.” RENEE CHATELAIN, Manship Theatre executive director
Starting in August, the best place to catch first-run independent films in Baton Rouge will no longer be Canal Place in New Orleans.
Thanks to a partnership with Emerging Cinema, the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center for the Arts downtown will begin showing indie, foreign and documentary films at the same time they’re screening in cities such as Austin, New York and Los Angeles.
It begins with two showings a night of “My Sister’s Sister” on Aug. 6-8 and “Take This Waltz” on Aug. 24-25.
But to Amy Mitchell-Smith, who was instrumental in putting the deal together, it means a whole lot more than just movies.
“So many people have said to me that this is long overdue,” she said.
Mitchell-Smith ended a five-year stint as head of the Baton Rouge Film Commission at the end of last year, and planned to focus on producing films and programming.
She also had been talking for months with Renee Chatelain, the Manship Theatre’s executive director, about how to get first-run independent films to Baton Rouge.
“There is an embarrassment of riches in terms of quality content to bring to Baton Rouge,” she said. “We want local audiences to have access to the best films and cultural events the world has to offer.”
While attending the Cannes Film Festival in France in May, she arranged a meeting with Ira Deutchman, of Emerging Cinema, whom she knew from when he worked at Fine Line Features, the specialty film division of New Line Cinema.
Emerging Cinema digitally distributes independent films and has deals with Sony Picture Classics, IFC, Sundance Select, Magnolia Pictures and others.
They talked about how existing technology at the Manship Theatre could be used to bring in the kinds of films that never seem to make it to Baton Rouge.
Having worked in film distribution in the acquisitions division of Miramax, Mitchell-Smith was convinced there is a market here.
She’s seen it at the popular outdoor movie screenings in summer 2008, the teeming special events at the Shaw Center and even in a packed suburban theater for an afternoon showing of Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom.”
The pitch worked, and a deal was in place a month later. Now it’s time to see if Mitchell-Smith, newly minted film curator for the Manship Theatre, was right.
“I really hope they’ll come out in droves,” she said. “We have to be smart about our programming, but the market is definitely here.”
The theater aims to have different options each week but will extend runs of certain films that prove to be popular, Mitchell-Smith said.
Prices will be $8.50 for regular tickets and $6.50 for seniors and children.
The Manship Theatre already offers “dinner and a movie” special events with local restaurants and screens films in conjunction with visits from filmmakers.
Mitchell-Smith said the theater could arrange to have filmmakers or actors interact with local audiences live, via Skype, to enhance the experience.
The agreement will allow the theater to stream live and pre-recorded ballet and opera from companies here and in London, Paris and Moscow.
“Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” a documentary about Jiro Ono, considered the world’s greatest sushi chef, will be screened in an event coordinated with the restaurant Tsunami, Mitchell-Smith said.
Beyond special events, Mitchell-Smith said the theater should just be a place people think of when they just want to catch a great movie, just like they would anywhere else.
“At the end of the day, my thought — and all indications the market is providing — is that this will be like if you lived in New Orleans and went to Canal Place,” she said.
In addition to being listed on services such as Fandango, she said, the theater will have a strong web presence and use social media and eBlasts to connect with the market.
As Baton Rouge becomes more attractive to young people, it has to set its sights beyond the mainstream, Mitchell-Smith said.
And for a city trying to expand its film business, “This is just one other area of the industry exhibition that is so important,” she said.
Whether they’re avid movie fans who have lived here their whole lives, or recent transplants who just picked up a film or digital media job in Baton Rouge, “I know a lot of people who are looking for this kind of programming in our community,” Mitchell-Smith said.
“I am one of them. This is just the kind of programming that is expected in progressive markets and capital cities.” Editor’s Note: This story was changed on July 20, 2012, to correct the name of Wes Anderson’s movie to “Moonrise Kingdom.”