Forget blockbuster movies, explore cinematic art at Pittsburgh film theaters

By Larissa Gula

It’s easy to get caught in the Hollywood rut. Moviegoers in Pittsburgh often gravitate toward… It’s easy to get caught in the Hollywood rut. Moviegoers in Pittsburgh often gravitate toward the two big-budget movie theaters: SouthSide Works Cinema or the AMC Loews Waterfront 22.

But for the blockbuster cinema cynics and the cash-strapped scholars, Pittsburgh has several affordable and more indie movie venues. Thanks to Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Hollywood Theater, there’s no reason cinephiles need to find themselves hungering for something artsier.

Hollywood Theater

1449 Potomac Ave.

Travel to Dormont, and students can find the single-screen, 80-year-old Hollywood Theater. It runs a variety of films, from anime to classics — such as “Gone with the Wind” — to documentaries to cult classics. (“The Room” is shown at least once every month.)

The Hollywood re-opened last June after extensive remodeling of the seating area and the sound systems.

“People love the balcony,” executive director John Maggio said. “We’re one of the few theaters with a tier balcony. People love our enormous screen, and it’s also curved. It just makes the experience even better when you’re watching the film.”

The Hollywood obtained nonprofit status one month ago, giving it more flexibility in its ability to screen films and maintain its operations. But the Hollywood is not just a theater — it’s a community resource, drawing extra business to local shops in the evening or during the day.

Screenings here are based on a mix of research and public suggestions, so students with a particular film in mind are always welcome to submit their ideas. Maggio noted that many films screened here end the same way: in applause.

“It doesn’t get any better than hearing people clapping at the end of a film,” he said.

Melwood Screening Room

477 Melwood Ave.

The Melwood Screening Room found a home in a converted warehouse that also houses the headquarters of its parent nonprofit, Pittsburgh Filmmakers. It is one of the group’s three theaters in the city.

Pittsburgh Filmmakers aims to raise public awareness and understanding about film and visual arts. To promote this, the nonprofit offers classrooms and art galleries at the Melwood location.

The films screened here should be viewed as works of art, said Gary Kaboly, Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ director of exhibition.

The theater itself is an intimate venue — a very simple room with enough seats for 130 people to watch films flicker on the big screen. Kaboly said it’s an ideal place to view films.

“Because [the films] are works of art, it is important that they be seen in the medium in which they were created, on a big screen in a darkened room with others sharing the experience,” Kaboly said, adding that what sets films at the Melwood apart from those at places like the Waterfront is the content of the films, not the theater itself.

The Melwood plays fewer movies than some of the bigger theaters in the city, but the scheduling is diverse. Some are classics, some didn’t get a national release and some are locally made.

Check out for titles and times of the films running here and at other Pittsburgh Filmmakers theaters. Tickets for students with valid IDs at all Pittsburgh Filmmaker theaters are generally $4.

Harris Theater

809 Liberty Ave.

The Harris Theater, also owned by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, emanates a nostalgic feel. With little graduation in the rows of armless seats, the theater seats 200 people between the lower level and the balcony.

The theater is named after Pittsburgh businessman John P. Harris, recognized as the first man in the world to open a Motion Picture theater. Pittsburgh Filmmakers has only owned and operated the theater since 1995; the theater itself has been open since 1931.

Films screened here tend to include contemporary, foreign and indie films, as well as some documentaries. When selecting films to run, Pittsburgh Filmmakers organizers monitor both the commercial film markets and film festivals for potential candidates, Kaboly said.

“If it’s not set for a local commercial release and we feel that the film deserves a local premiere, we then contact the distributor,” Kaboly said. “As long as we feel the film is artistically or culturally significant, then it may play on one of our screens.”

Harris is the only movie theater located Downtown and is open seven days a week.

Regent Square Theater

1035 South Braddock Ave.

The Regent Square Theater, Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ third theater, is one of the last single-screen neighborhood theaters in the region. Built in 1938, the theater is now surrounded by small local shops and cafés in Regent Square and tends to run better-known classic and artistic films.

Older viewers often remember seeing films such as “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Vertigo” at this theater in the past. This tradition continues with the Sunday night classic film series.

“We often get compliments on our Sunday night classic series at Regent Square,” Kaboly said. “Patrons thank us for the opportunity to see an older film on the big screen the way it was meant to be seen.”

Planned renovations promise that this old theater will remain comfortable and stylish.