The example of Maiden Alley

Friday, July 13, 2007

We're just haunted by this place called Paducah, Ky., aren't we?

Of course, there's Paducah's artist relocation program that many of us artsy types in Cape Girar­deau point to as a model for reshaping downtown the way we'd like to see it. Sure, it's selfish of us, but it's been proven time and time again that small-town downtowns can really benefit from an emphasis on the arts.

Then I open our Tuesday newspaper to see a picture of a Paducah city official sitting in on one of the Cape Girardeau City Council meetings, and a quote in the accompanying story saying that Paducah's actually jealous of something we have -- the Shawnee Sports Complex.

I hate to keep bringing up the comparisons (which some have labeled unfair, maybe with good reason) but I've got one more for you.

In the heart of Paducah's beautiful downtown -- you should go there if you've never been -- is a little movie theater called Maiden Alley. Before I go further let me say this: I've never been to the Maiden Alley Cinema, but the theater's reputation precedes it. I've heard of the place many times. After all, it is the only theater in the region with independent films as its bread and butter (the only one that I know of, anyway).

A quick look at the cinema's Web site will tell you most of what you need to know: Currently playing, an artsy French film called "Paris, Je T'aime." Coming up next, the Angelina Jolie vehicle and much-publicized indie "A Mighty Heart." Sometime after that Maiden Alley will show the acclaimed anime film "Paprika." Just Google this flick, you'll find it.

Maiden Alley shows films every day of the week, and apparently is able to operate only on donations and ticket revenue, Paducah Film Society executive director Heather Ryan said.

The film society started in 1991 and used to show films in the Market House Theatre, a place for stage acting, not film. By 2001, they were able to make an actual cinema. They get some grants, one from the Kentucky Arts Council for $3,300 and one from the National Endowment for the Arts for $10,000 to help fund the River's Edge Film Festival, a three-day event running from Aug. 16 to 18 this year.

But for the most part Maiden Alley is a self-sustaining enterprise. And the place doesn't limit itself to indie-movie hipsters -- they also show classics and, on Saturday mornings, children's movies.

So what does Maiden Alley's success have to do with Cape Girardeau? A lot.

Cape Girardeau is home to all kinds of artists, and that includes filmmakers. If you need proof, just look at "Fire Lily," the Victor Kantchev-produced indie film directed by Kenn Stilson that just wrapped shooting. You'll find people on the crew like Mike Huntington, Pat Bond, Bart Elfrink and Scott Elsey, all of whom live and make their own indie shorts and features right here in the Cape Girardeau area.

And there's another generation rising (Elsey is one of them) with filmmakers like Zack Harris, Andrew Kenner and Louie Benson filling the ranks.

Right now these artists have no consistent, public venue to show their work, unlike the visual artists, stage actors and musicians that abound here in Cape Girardeau. Huntington and others are still trying to form a new artist group, the Cape Artists Council, that will bring the many artistic disciplines, including film, together under one body. They started working on the group after dissatisfaction about the lack of inclusiveness of filmmakers in the local art community.

Hoping this council does form, I think they'd do well to use Maiden Alley as a model for a facility here in Cape Girardeau (Huntington has discussed a similar idea with me in the past).

Sure, most people in Cape Girardeau probably go to movies for entertainment, not necessarily culture, and that's understandable. But there is a segment of the population (me included) that loves indie film, its brilliance and its anti-establishment edge. Anybody who can stick it to the Hollywood commercialization of culture is a friend in my book.

Just drive down Broadway and you'll see there are abandoned theaters that could easily be converted for such use. The question would be how much the owners want for them.

Such a theater could serve as the showcase for our local indie filmmakers, for national and international indie films, and for other art forms (Maiden Alley displays rotating visual art exhibitions in its lobby). Local filmmakers have been talking for years about how they want to be seen as legitimate, and they've gained a lot of ground toward that goal, but having a place to show their work on a consistent basis (other than a once-a-year film festival) would further their goals even more.

Sure, maybe it's a pipe dream, but as the arts progress in Cape Girardeau, film needs to get in on the act or be left behind. Our own Maiden Alley could do a lot for their purposes. Maybe a year from now we'll be watching indie films after First Friday receptions.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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