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Plenty of action and activity at a/perture cinema this season

by Mark Burger

With the Oscar season is upon us, these are busy times in Hollywood, as studios both large and small begin releasing their heaviest Oscar contenders at a breakneck pace.

On a local level, these are also busy times for curator Lawren Desai at a/perture cinema in downtown Winston- Salem. With more independent and foreign films reaping Academy’s favor then ever before — last year’s Amour won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and earned four additional nominations including Best Picture — it’s a certainty that many of this year’s Oscar hopefuls with be smaller but equally worthy films that often bypass the neighborhood multiplexes in favor of big-budget, high-concept blockbusters.

Since opening in January 2010, a/perture cinema has been Winston-Salem’s arthouse haven, and this summer the theater became bigger and better than ever when a third theater was added.

Desai admits she had never given a thought to a/perture becoming a “multiplex” of its own, but when space just below the theater unexpectedly became available, “it became a ‘now-or-never,’ situation,” she notes – and the time was now.

The original auditoriums respectively seat 82 and 79, and the new theater (called “s/tudio 3”) seats 45. With only two screens, some films that still had earning potential had to go to make room for a new one. “It certainly gives is more flexibility and more opportunity to hold a film over,” Desai says.

Currently screening at a/perture are director Steve McQueen’s star-studded adaptation of 12 Years a Slave and Abdellatif Kechiche’s controversial adaptation of Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adele), which won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. On Friday, they’ll be joined by Dallas Buyers Club, which stars Matthew McConaughey as reallife AIDS activist Ron Woodroof. All three films are being touted as serious awards contenders, and all are being released on a limited, platform basis.

The new theater is also ideal for local screenings or special events, such as the new “n/ight s/hift” series, which showcases rare, obscure or cult films. On Halloween, n/ ight s/hift presented a special screening of the infamous Troll 2. The 1982 Jim Henson fantasy The Dark Crystal screens on Friday and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9 p.m., followed by Joe Dante’s 1984 classic Gremlins Dec. 6-8.

In addition to outfitting the new theater, the lobby at a/perture (called “the a/trium”) has been expanded to accommodate more people. “It’s been a challenging year,” admits Desai with a smile, “but it’s movies. How could you not like movies? Come on!” Once again, next spring, a/ perture will be one of the principal venues for the RiverRun  International Film Festival, which is scheduled to run April 4-13. RiverRun and a/perture have been partnered since the theater’s inception. “We’re all very pleased with the partnership that RiverRun has forged with a/perture since it opened its doors,” says festival director Andrew Rodgers. “Over the past four years, we’ve watched Lawren and her family demonstrate time and time again their commitment to serving this community by building the best art-house cinema possible.”

An earlier attempt to bring art-house fare to downtown Winston-Salem, the “Films on Fourth” series at the Stevens Center, proved problematic when the venue’s regular events often necessitated a limited run for the films being shown. When that series quietly folded, Desai was absolutely certain there was a demand, not only for the films, but for an art-house cinema.

In its nearly four years of operation, a/ perture cinema “fills a niche,” as Desai anticipated. The initial difficulties included establishing relationships with those aforementioned distributors. “We had to prove ourselves,” Desai says, “and for the most part we’ve done that.”

Building an audience was also a major component — perhaps the major component — and its ongoing success is testament to that. “As a result of their hard work, today a/perture stands as a popular destination for local entertainment and offers audiences the chance to see great international and independent films yearround,” Rodgers observes.

WANNA go?

For information about screenings at a/perture, visit aperturecinema.com.

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