“Movie Houses of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week, FSR’s own Samantha Wilson chose one of her favorite theaters. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.
Location: 1124 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA
Opened: August 14, 1936
No. of Screens: 3
Current First Run Titles: Rush and Thanks For Sharing
Repertory Programming: The Del Mar is home to its fabulous Midnight Movies series on Friday and Saturdays [this weekend they had Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and V/H/S/2]. The films are crowd pleasers like Jurassic Park, Space Jam, The Big Lebowski or Raiders of the Lost Ark — all hits that gain massive audience approval and participation. For example, anyone wearing a real or fake mustache got into the Anchorman screenings for $5. One memorable midnight screening I attended was the seminal Spice Girls masterpiece Spice World, where dressing up as your favorite Spice was highly encouraged and a costume contest definitely took place.
The best and brightest offering of the Del Mar is their annual Secret Film Festival, a 12-hour nonstop (almost — there are a few pee breaks) film fest every April, where none of the attendees know any of the screenings until after they’ve already committed to denting their seats in one of the three theaters. Screenings start at midnight on a Saturday, and weary but stunned film buffs stumble back into the sunlight at noon the next Sunday. It’s mesmerizing, exhausting and something that anyone visiting Santa Cruz should experience.
As a local entertainment reporter at the time, I once covered the film festival to delirious results. Around 7:00am is when your notes start getting a little jagged and your sources start giggling uncontrollably when you ask them why they liked that last movie so much. No matter how much coffee you suck down before entering the theater, your efforts are futile. It’s like an industry screening, slumber party and midnight movie rolled into one perfect package.
Special Events: I would consider the Secret Film Festival a special event in itself, but the Del Mar does hold a fair amount of events throughout the year as well. There are special screenings accompanied by Q&A sessions (Like an On the Road showing that I describe below), as well as simply cool second-runs that they just feel like showing to a new audience. The Del Mar also hosts live broadcasts of theater productions that are quite popular — in June, it was the NTLive broadcast of The Audience, starring Helen Mirren [this morning is an encore presentation of Othello]. Additionally, the theater puts together a lot of special programming themed with its new releases; for example, when Hitchcock played last year, you could see a matinee of Psycho for free in a special package deal.
Why I Worship Here: The Del Mar Theater is a place where people just love movies. And that sounds a bit silly or obvious to say about a movie theater, but what I mean to say is that a trip to the Del Mar means you will be surrounded by hundreds of likeminded moviegoers who are filled with the same joy and excitement to sit in those theater seats and spend two hours taking in a new film. The staff is knowledgable about the films being shown, and just as eager as you are to discuss them afterward. It’s a theater that exists as its own little community while opening its doors to anyone who just wants to drop in at the same time.
Plus, it’s just gorgeous. I don’t quite know how to describe the architectural style, but the theatre was built in the 1930s and has been well-preserved to keep that beauty. It’s ornate, colorful and almost fragile, but it’s a sight to behold. The neon Del Mar marquee is one of the first things you notice when hitting downtown Santa Cruz, and though I no longer live there, seeing it at night was so comforting. It’s like a beacon guiding you home.
Recent Screening of Note: In March, the Del Mar had a showing of Walter Salles’s On the Road followed by a Q&A with the friends and family of Neal Cassady (Garrett Hedlund’s character in the film). Regardless of your feelings about the film, it was a huge treat to get to hear stories about Cassady’s real-life experiences from those who actually knew the man, and to hear about what he might have thought about the film too.
Devotion to the Concessions: Oh, how they are devoted. During the Secret Film Fest, moviegoers can sustain themselves from a whole menu of nourishing treats: Peanut Butter & Nutella sandwiches, cereal, pop tarts, pastries and chocolate covered espresso beans. Or fruit, if that’s your thing. During regular concessions, they sometimes offer special movie-themed treats along with the standard popcorn/candy game. Although I’m not sure if it’s still offered, during the summer there was caramel corn called “Streetcaramel Named Desire.” There’s also a wide selection of vegan treats available. No audience member left behind.
Last Word: A gorgeous venue, a tightknit community of film buffs and fanatics and a true passion for getting movies out to the people — there’s not much more you could ask for in a movie theater. The Del Mar goes above and beyond in every aspect of the moviegoing experience and I urge anyone in the area to at least stop by for a cookie and a first run showing.