What began as a throwback screening of “Friday the 13th” 20 years ago has now grown into a fan-favorite Friday night institution at the Carolina Theatre of Durham.
The Retro Film Series brings classic films, of 20 years or older, back to the big screen in a double feature screening every Friday night. Jim Carl, the theatre's director of film programming, said they show movies from multiple genres, such as horror, sci-fi, action, adventure, comedy and foreign films.
Carl said the double feature series follows a typical '60s and '70s drive-in movie model.
“It’s a recipe we’ve kept for the last 20 years,” he said. “Every Friday night it’s retro, every Friday night it’s a double feature and every Friday night it’s a different genre.”
When the series began years ago, it only showed classic horror films. The movie-goers loved the horror films, but once Carl started taking suggestions, it became clear that the audience wanted to see more than just horror.
Now, the theater features a themed Retro Film Series, which varies every weekend. RetroAmore is for romance; RetroClassics for drama, mystery, war and western; RetroTreasures for comedies, animated films and musicals; RetroFantasma for sci-fi, action-adventure and horror.
“I’ve worked really hard to make sure Retro does not become ‘Bad Movie Night,’” Carl said. “That’s not what we’re here for. It’s a very nice audience. They’re respectful, which is what people really enjoy.”
Some people in the audience remember seeing these films when they first came out in theaters, while others have never seen these films or have only seen them on televisions. Carl said this is what makes the experience of Retro Film Series so special.
“It’s a very diverse audience. I have grandparents bringing their grandchildren, and I have couples who are going out on their first date,” he said. “People laugh, applaud and cheer.”
Joe Student, the director of live events at the theater, said the frequent Retro-goers have become friends with each other. Even marriage proposals have taken place at the theatre.
“It takes them back to a time in their lives that they can remember first seeing these films," Student said. "If they haven’t seen it, they can certainly remember the era or the time. We forget how much pop culture influences culture in general. The older you get, you start to realize that a lot of this stuff starts to come back around — you see it in fashion, in phraseology, in jargon. People like that shared experience.”
To fully immerse the audience, the Retro Film Series features authentic, and equally retro, trailers and commercials from the time the film first came out. As they watch old trailers, while they wait for the film to start, the audience can experience what it was like to be there for the original movie premiere.
Dustin Britt, a local fan of the theater, said he thinks that the trailers and previews are actually the best part of the Retro Film Series.
“It's my favorite part of the evening because it transports us to the time period of the film we're seeing,” Britt said. “It provides context for what the film industry was like at the time, to put the featured movies in perspective. Some are movies we've never heard of, some are obvious classics — both get wonderful reactions from the crowd.”
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