The North Park Theatre has come up with an ingenious way of keeping things chugging along. The operators of the theater have orchestrated a series of “private screenings” during the pandemic that have become a big hit. I spoke to co-owner Mike Christiano and Program Director Ray Barker, to get down to the nitty-gritty – how they came up with the idea, and the community’s response at turning the North Park into what they say is “your own living room.”
“People want to enjoy the North Park and want to stay safe,” said Christiano. “It’s the North Park on Demand, essentially.”
“The private screenings are a way to invite people from a single household, under one roof (podding together), to enjoy a movie of their choice,” agreed Barker. We’re already sold out for March, and we’re planning on opening up the first half of April in another week (stay tuned).”
Christiano and Barker said that they saw that other cities had tried something similar, with success, so why not the North Park?
The two attribute their own success to movie lovers who never had an opportunity to see their favorite films on the big screen. “If you never got to see the film Major League on the big screen because it came out in 1989, and you were born in ’95, this is your opportunity to do so,” said Barker.
If you think that it’s easy to pull something like this off, think again. With 10 to 15 different films screened in a given week, it’s Barker’s job to make sure that everything is doable. “I ask people to give me three of their top wishlist titles, and then I have to track down the rights. It’s a process.”
So far, everything has worked pretty much according to plan, except for the person that wanted to see a movie on a different film format. Other than that everyone is apparently thrilled with the concept.
Christiano said that this is a real opportunity to see a film that was meant for the big screen. Everyone has their favorite after all.
With that in mind, I asked Barker if he was surprised by any of the requests, and he said [laughing], “Yes, I was astonished to hear that some people wanted to see Trolls World Tour. “It’s not the Citizen Kane of animated movies,” agreed Christiano, although they both noted that the movie came out at the beginning of the pandemic, and a lot of kids missed it in the theaters.
Barker did say that there is definitely a “type” of person that is looking to screen the movies – from science fiction fans to romantics. And everyone has their favorite places to sit – most sit smack dab in the middle of the theater with perfect sight-lines and sound, but the lovebirds might sit in the back to smooch, and the sci-fi fans might sit in the front row. One guy asked if Barker could set an ambient mood for a film before it started – he wanted to hear some Tangerine Dream. Why not?
As for the food and drinks, it’s best for moviegoers to pre-request what they will want. A popcorn of course… and maybe an Icelandic Chocolate bar? “We’re the only theater in town that stocks it,” they told me. “We have concessions from all over the world, to match the films. We have licorice from Finland, and candies from all over Europe and Japan. We still have a good selection of treats, even during the pandemic. There’s an air purification machine near the concession stand too.”
Of course I had to ask the two what their private screening choices would be. Barker told me that his would have to be The Last Starfighter (a 1984 American space opera film directed by Nick Castle). “It’s cool to see on the big screen; it’s nostalgic. If I was seeing a film with my brother and my parents, it would be Cinema Paradiso.”
Christiano said [laughing] that his choice was Fandango with Kevin Costner. “At this point, it’s an outdoor trip, after being inside for the last year. It’s a vacation road trip [doubling down]. I would have to add that it would not be my wife’s favorite choice.”
Christiano and Barker said that, more than anything else, the private screenings experience has been a nice transition phase, as they keep their fingers crossed for a smooth vaccine rollout, so that they can return to business at hand. “It lets up operate in the meantime, before comfortably reopening.”
As for Buffalo movie-goers, all I can say is that the film world is now their oyster, so get cracking and book a select screening when the next round is made available.
Now playing: ANYTHING YOU WANT!
Reserve a time slots at shop.northparktheatre.org.
Here are the details:
- Rental parties should be limited to 1-6 people of the same family or household
- Rentals are $250 per time slot
- Reservations must be made at least 4 days in advance
- Popcorn and soda will be available as a $10 PRE-SALE combo per person
- Outside food & drink is not permitted
- Snack combos include 1 Medium Popcorn & 1 Medium Fountain Drink
- Films longer than 120 minutes will be subject to an additional charge
- No decorations are allowed, ie confetti, balloons, etc
- Any damage to the theater will be billed to the renter. (Please don’t damage the theater!)
- Masks must be worn before taking your seat, and all guests must adhere to social distancing measures
- If you feel sick before your rental, please let us know and we will reschedule. Guests experiencing COVID-19 symptoms must stay home.
- If for any reason we can’t accommodate your rental, we will promptly refund your fee or reschedule your date
- All content-related inquiries can be directed to our Program Director, Ray Barker, at email@example.com
- The short answer is… if you can dream it, we can do it!
The North Park Theatre | Buffalo’s Only 501 (c)(3) Not-For-Profit Cinema
1428 Hertel Avenue Buffalo, NY 14216 | 716-836-7411 | Website