Silver screen soiree

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January 26, 2008

2:37 PM

p. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Kimball Theatre hosts a film festival to highlight history

p. Having recently celebrated its 75th anniversary in January, the Kimball Theatre plans to commemorate its historic run as the prime cinematic attraction in Merchants Square.

p. Continuing to show art-house flicks and live performances, the theater is famous for showcasing acclaimed international films and distinguished musicians.

p. In February, the Kimball will bring back an array of timeless Hollywood hits that lit up the screens of the past. “When the Movies Come to Town,” will be a four-day film event, commemorating the past 75 years of cinematic history that will revisit history, including screenings of the original black-and-white classic “King Kong” and “The Godfather.” The festival will also feature receptions and a distinguished list of guest speakers to compliment the event.

p. Clay Riley, Kimball’s manager, worked with Tim Bernard and Arthur Knight, professors of the College’s film studies department. “They approached me about doing this feature. Bernard wanted to go over the history of films and expand it into this festival. Tim and Arthur were immeasurably helpful in creating topics within a loose framework, integral to the course,” Riley said.

p. Formerly called the Williamsburg Theatre, the Kimball opened its doors Jan. 12, 1933. “The theater was the only game in town,” Knight said. The theater was associated with the Rockefeller-owned Radio-Keith-Orpheum Theatre Chain, the same company that ran the Radio City Music Hall.

p. The Kimball Theatre boasts a legacy graced by both history and celebrity. In fact, the theater was a refuge for Hollywood industry big shots, including John D. Rockefeller and his wife. Walt Disney also enjoyed leisurely evening screenings, resting on benches outside of the theater and conversing with students of the College who passed by.

p. “A lot of people see the Kimball Theatre as an enduring Williamsburg business,” Riley said. “We’ve been here 75 years. For a long time, it was really the only movie business. Our reputation for quality goes a long way, especially among the community that’s been here a long time.”

p. The theater was also one of the first air-conditioned movie theaters of its time, and introduced wider spaces between rows and an advanced acoustic sound system. “It wasn’t until the late ’60s when another movie theater opened up in town other than drive-ins,” Riley said. “After the arrival of the RC Theatres in Williamsburg Crossing, it was decided that the theater would become an art house for independent productions, essentially taking us out of competition of Hollywood films. That was in the late ’80s.”

p. According to Knight, “This festival is intended to mesh with the film studies program, while providing an educational opportunity and an intensive way to introduce people to new films and ideas. The program will bring back mainstream Hollywood film hits from the past and some art house films. But most importantly, [we can] use the occasion to not just celebrate the theater, but also reflect on the limits of the public space and the progress society has made. Like many other establishments, the Kimball Theatre use to be segregated, sometime between 1955 and 1963. Up into the mid-1950s, there were no African Americans admitted into the theater.”

p. Braum Katz ’10, who is involved in the festival’s planning as a part of an American studies project, described the historical details that the event will highlight. “We are working to re-create the facade of the Kimball Theatre to look just as it did when ‘King Kong’ premiered in 1933. I think this film festival will be an incredible opportunity for students to have a glimpse of Williamsburg history.

p. “This program will enable students to appreciate local history. For film students and American studies students, the program demonstrates the living, breathing form that history can take. History doesn’t have to be about wars and political leaders. Sometimes, the richest history can be found right in a local community,” Katz said.

p. The festival will start from Thursday, Feb. 14 and will run through Sunday, Feb. 17. Although the screenings are free, tickets are required for admission.

p. The selection includes eight full-length feature presentations, shorter-length clips and cartoons, presentations and a host of receptions, including a wine and cheese affair. The movie “Blowup” being screened on the College campus. Popular films that mark the decades of the past being featured are “King Kong,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Roman Holiday,” “The Godfather,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and other blockbuster hits.

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