The Joy of Moviegoing

Rediscovering the joy of moviegoing following the annual Freep Film Festival and reflecting on the loss of the Main Art Theater.

The Joy of Moviegoing
The State Theater in Traverse City, Michigan

This last weekend in April was a reminder to me of the joy of moviegoing. Not streaming, but actual moviegoing. As in physically going to a movie theater to screen a film. This was the weekend of the Freep Film Festival, showcasing Detroit- and Michigan-focused documentary films both virtually and in-person at venues across the metro area.

I had the pleasure of screening two excellent documentary films as part of the Freep Film Festival: Bad Axe and We Can Be Heroes, both at the Detroit Film Theater. In addition to the documentaries at the Festival, I squeezed in a screening of the mind-bendingly surreal, uniquely original Everything Everywhere All at Once at a nearby cineplex.

I can't remember the last time I saw three films at the movie theater over a single weekend, if ever. And this follows a two-year pandemic-induced moviegoing hiatus. The last film I saw in a theater was The Invisible Man in early 2020. After being away from theaters for so long, I'd forgotten the allure. There is nothing like a dark theater, a live audience and overpriced popcorn and pop. Going to a theater means no pause button. It means fewer distractions. It's total immersion in the story. And the audience reaction aspect makes the experience that much more enjoyable and memorable.

The convenience of streaming was a godsend during the pandemic, and it's not going away. But streaming doesn't hold up to seeing a movie live in a theater with an audience. I'll be committing to getting out to the theater more often to take in a movie on the big screen. Sadly though, I'm writing this at a time when metro Detroit is losing one of its great film venues, the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak. The Main Art was known for showing first-run foreign and art house films.

The demolition of the Main Art is a major loss for the region, but hopefully it will serve as a wake-up call. It is vitally important to support independent film theaters, film festivals and filmmakers. We can't take these things for granted. There may still yet be a happy-ish ending to this story if the community effort and outcry that sprang up around the loss of the Main Art is channeled into new initiatives, like maybe kickstarting a new locally-owned non-profit cinema in a new location showing first-run art house and foreign films. Or maybe a completely different concept will take root. For example, maybe something like Amsterdam's popular cinema/coworking space/bar/restaurant Lab111 could spring up in metro Detroit, alongside Film Lab in Hamtramck, which operates a simliar concept on a smaller scale.

An exterior photo of Lab111 in Amsterdam
Lab111 in Amsterdam, a bar/restaurant, cinema and co-working space located in a former morgue. Photo credit: Tero Koistinen CC 4.0