In a world brimming with mega-IMAX theaters, unlimited internet streaming and ubiquitous rental kiosks, movie-viewing opportunities have expanded exponentially in the past decade. But for some folks, there’s nothing quite like the scent of buttered popcorn and a darkened, plush-seated, old-fashioned movie house for a flick fix.
Enter Oklahoma City’s Rodeo Cinema.
Executive director Kim Haywood says the movie house, which opened in 1924 in the historic Stockyard District and was relaunched in August, showcases “the best in independent film while offering guests a unique movie-watching experience.”
Small, nonprofit theaters like Rodeo Cinema and Tulsa’s Circle Cinema are “often the only places in town showing the Oscar-nominated, non-blockbuster films,” Haywood says. “They make little to no money, but the people running them have a real passion for film.”
She adds that the zealous group behind the cinema wants a “true art-house experience, available 365 days a year. The main theater screen has 172 seats, and there are plans [for] two new screens being built in a nearby building. Each will have its own concessions and box office.”
Independent films are the usual fare for small art-house theaters, Haywood says. They are made outside the traditional Hollywood studio system, with filmmakers responsible for their own funding and distribution. This grassroots cinema produces unique, interesting storytelling, devoid of the explosions and superheroes in mass-produced movies because “sometimes people just want to expand their minds and consciousness through film and cinema.”
Highlights for 2019 include participation in the Indie Lens Pop-Up, a community event featuring documentaries from Independent Lens, a series on PBS. One of those films – Rumble: The Indians Who Rock the World – had a free preview and a post-show panel of speakers connected with the film last month. The movie shows how Native American influence is a missing chapter in music history.
Another special program is a festival of films called VHS and Chill on April 19, when the theater shows classic movies on the large screen, including the 30th anniversaries of 1980s movies Say Anything and Road House.
Word is out that Rodeo Cinema is an adventure in and of itself.
“People have responded strongly to the experience of a movie at Rodeo Cinema,” Haywood says. “Just coming into the movie house, it feels like walking 90 years into the past but with a modern twist. The seating is so comfortable and the food includes typical theater fare, but with some local touches like Oklahoma-made beef jerky, local chocolates and Oklahoma Gourmet Popcorn.
“And we’re really excited about the upcoming installation of an antique pipe organ, which originally was used in the Orpheum Theater in Tulsa. Soon we’ll be showing silent movies as well as having music before and after films.”
Memberships are available, and volunteers are welcome. Visit rodeocinema.org for details and schedules.