Microtheaters are like the off-off-off-off Broadway of movie theaters. They seat very few people and often show very old, very eclectic, or very perplexing movies (sometimes a combination of all three). If you’re looking for the latest Disney release or even a jumbo-size cola, these places aren’t for you. But if you’re looking for edgy film in an intimate setting, then check out the city’s five best microtheaters. By Jessica Allen.
For a suggested donation of $10, the Maysles Institute democratizes the movie-going experience. At least four nights a week, this independent film house in Harlem screens documentaries. Most of the time, the filmmaker is on hand to answer questions—and the audience is expected to have them, as well as to engage one another in conversation. Movies tend to be consciousness-raising and thought-provoking, focusing on social issues or representing the underrepresented. And, yes, the Maysles in the name is Albert Maysles, who directed such classics as Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens and founded this nonprofit in 2005.
This entirely volunteer-run theater in Williamsburg specializes in “overlooked works, offbeat gems, contemporary art, radical polemics, live performance, and more.” In other words, Spectacle Theater specializes in spectacle. Shows are either $5 or free. Coming up: a series of films screening under the title “Radical Feminists” and a midnight showing of Rock N’ Roll Hotel, including prize raffles and lyric sheets so everyone can sing along. “Horror Boobs” is another regular event, showing so-bad-they’re-good-movies with a particular emphasis on mammary glands.
Phantom Creep Theatre takes patrons back to a time when visitors flocked to Coney Island, hoping to up their heart rates via the scary creatures of the fun house, among other entertainments. This movie theater operates on Saturday nights from May to September, and its programming tends toward the weird, including such forgotten “classics” as Night of the Living Dead and Golden Bat. Sometimes magicians perform, sometimes locally made beer and wine are served. Shows begin at 8:30 pm, but get there early to snag a seat and to watch the old commercials, shorts, and trailers that start at 8:15. And if you haven’t already filled up on a Nathan’s Famous Frankfurter, there’s usually free popcorn!
Something about this space in Greenpoint makes you want to use the word “film” rather than “movie.” Maybe it’s the close attention given to art and experimentation at the expense of more commercial, more staid cinema. Artists, curators, writers, and filmmakers are usually on hand to offer commentary on the work being shown and to foster community and discussion. Recent events at Light Industry have paired poets and directors, or Todd Haynes’s first feature, Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud, with Todd Phillips’s first, a documentary about a notorious punk performer called Hated: G.G. Allin and The Murder Junkies. Check the calendar for updates.
Bigger than the other theaters on this list, Anthology Film Archives nevertheless warrants a place here, thanks to its selection of movies as well as its manifesto. The eponymous archives are real, and they contain a fascinating mix of avant-garde and independent work. Since 1969 this theater has taken seriously its mission to show movies at risk of being forgotten, ignored, or just plain laughed at; each year it offers more than 900 programs and preserves an average of 25 films. It’s a must-visit for serious city cinephiles.