by Kelly Vance
Is El Cerrito the new home of movie cool? Or is it just North Berkeley with genuine bohemians? No one but us was thinking about that at Saturday night's media/staff grand opening of the new Cerrito Theater, half a block north of El Cerrito Plaza on a previously sleepy stretch of San Pablo Avenue. They'll need a couple of new restaurants up there to handle the after-dark crowds if the new twin-screen movie house is any indication - it's a jewel box, from its restored architectural details (gorgeous Deco etched glass back bar, classic marquee and blade) and comfy chairs (fewer couches than Speakeasy's Parkway but better amenities and a few real theater seats) to Speakeasy's customary beer-wine-pizza snack bar and a street-level café, the It Club. The big problem will be keeping patrons from abandoning the lovable-but-funky Parkway after they've seen the new place.
The Cerrito opens Wednesday, November 1 with two oldies - Casablanca and Pulp Fiction, then switches into its regular second-run format on Friday. Want to have a say in the Cerrito's programming? Feed the theater's Suggestion Box. Owner Kyle Fischer says they'll take their booking cues from audience preferences.
Alongside El Cerrito community dignitaries and Speakeasy stalwarts at the party were the film people, including East Bay movie man Gary Meyer, operator of SF's second-run indie bastion, the Balboa. Gary knows a little about starting a neighborhood cinema - he founded the Landmark art circuit at Berkeley's fabled calendar-house UC Theatre in the '70s, then sold it. These days, he's the new codirector of the prestigious Telluride Film Festival ("Like Cannes died and went to heaven," says Roger Ebert). In fact, Gary and veteran SF movie producer Tom Luddy (Barfly, Mishima), the Ã¼ber-hip film fest's founding codirector, are moving their respective offices into a new Telluride-centric space in the Berkeley flats. And to bring this thing full circle, Meyer and Luddy plan to use the Cerrito to screen Telluride entries next summer for the fest's judges. El Cerrito is coming up in the world. Think Rocky Mountain High.
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