The Hipp: 25 years of provocative foreign, indie and art film
Published: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 11:47 p.m.
In a way, it all began with three people, Daytona and "The Purple Haze" - a '66 Volkswagen van.
Mary Hausch, Shirley Lasseter and Rocky Draud had a dream to open an independent art house cinema in Gainesville, but they needed the pieces to make it happen.
In late 1981, the three friends buckled into Draud's van and drove to Daytona to pick-up a used screen from a theater that was closing. They tied it to the van's roof and drove it back to Gainesville.
Later they used ratchets and wrenches to unbolt jade-colored rocking seats at another closing cinema as they knelt in 20 years worth of spilled drinks and bubble gum. Except for the projector, everything was donated.
"It was all kind of lost-and-found parts and pieces to get it all together," said Hausch, producing director of the Hippodrome State Theatre in downtown Gainesville.
This weekend, the Hippodrome will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its 90-plus seat cinema.
The Hippodrome first opened in 1973 as a stage theater off U.S. Highway 441 and expanded a few years later relocating to the historic Federal building on SE 2nd Place. It now includes the cinema and an art gallery in addition to its live-performance theater.
To celebrate the cinema's beginnings, the Hippodrome is inviting guests with free pizza Saturday at 6:30 p.m., prior to the 7 p.m. showing of "Pan's Labyrinth," a Spanish film nominated for best foreign film a Golden Globe this year. The birthday bash will continue on Sunday evening with a potluck dinner and cake at 6, followed by a free viewing at 7 of "Big Night," a 1996 award-winning drama. The theater is also conducting a year-long raffle of full passes to 10 film festivals across the country. Raffle tickets are $5 for a single festival or $40 for all the festivals. Proceeds go towards upgrading cinema equipment.
Anyone is welcome to join the celebration and bring a favorite dish to the Sunday dinner, said Jessica Thompson, the Hippodrome marketing director.
The Hippodrome cinema is a unique experience for patrons. Small and intimate, it has a full-service bar and an art gallery that showcases works by local artists.
"It's the only (theater) around where people can have a glass of wine or a beer, get some popcorn and have a great date," Thompson said.
But the bar isn't the only thing that keeps the regulars coming.
Cinema Director Shirley Lasseter is known for bringing rare - and sometimes controversial - films. In fact, one of the current movies on the calendar - "Shut Up & Sing" - stars the Dixie Chicks and focuses on their public protest of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. The movie, which opened last week, has been held over and matinee shows have been added.
"We look for films that are provocative, thought-provoking, critically acclaimed and, of course, entertaining," said Lasseter, who screens about six films per week, both American and foreign, and reads reviews on about 50 other films before she decides what to bring to the Hippodrome.
And moviegoers really trust her judgment, said General Manager Rocky Draud, explaining that the Hippodrome Cinema is "not the place you'll ever see a Three Stooges revival."
Movies are usually shown for one week, drawing anywhere from 400 to 500 people per movie. Revenue from ticket saless increased in 2006, though, when about 9,000 people came to see "March of the Penguins," a film that the cinema held over for about six weeks because of its popularity.
Trace Giornelli and her husband Joe Durando, who are organic farmers, have been Hippodrome regulars for about 15 years and know every item at the snack bar. In that time, they have seen a variety of movies, and Giornelli said it's the surprise of the films that keeps them entertained.
In the summertime, the couple faithfully see every movie shown at the theater, and they attend showings about once a month during the rest of the year.
"I love the venue," Giornelli said of the Hippodrome. "It's just gotta be one of the coolest places to watch a movie in town."
Giornelli said she thinks it's also the small town itself - bars, restaurants and coffee shops right outside the theater doors - that keeps a lot of people coming. She and her husband usually take walks after seeing a movie to enjoy the nightlife.
Today, the 25-year-old cinema - with its rocking theater seats, purple walls and wooden floor - continues to bring joy and tears, action and terror to its patrons.
To Hausch, Lasseter and Draud, this is their living room - straight out of a movie.
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