by Rosalie Kicks!,
Old Sport at Moviejawn
The Grail Moviehouse is more than just the home for one of my best friends, the film data bank that is Francis X. Friel (aka The Frantom, our creator of MJ) it is a reminder of why attending films in a theater setting is a necessity. Located in Asheville, NC owners, Davida Horwitz & Steve White have created a venue that provides a grand experience for cinephiles.
After being a teacher for over 20 years Davida found that she was ready for a change. Her partner, Steve, had managed/worked in video stores and movie theaters for many years. From these experiences he always dreamed of owning his own theater. “We love movies and TV and after reading a blog about a couple who started their own cinema – The Moxie (moxie.danchilton.com), we began to think that this may be a reality,” says Davida. From there the plotting began and there was no looking back. “I realized that if we didn’t do it and someone else did, I would regret it. That, in my mind, was the deciding factor to quit my job, sign the lease, and build it. Even if it failed, at least we tried and weren’t sitting at someone else’s place wishing we had done it,” explains Davida.
The doors to the Grail Moviehouse opened earlier this year. Much of the design and color scheme is reminiscent of classic movie theaters (red, black, blue and yellow – a Lance vending machine was also inspiration…keep reading). As one approaches The Grail you are greeted with the classic movie theater neon sign. After walking down a long hallway your anticipation builds until you finally find yourself in the cozy welcoming lobby. Guests will first be drawn to the Lance vending machine that has been refurbished to retail art. Copies of Moviejawn, paintings made by the owners’ children and local artisans’ work are just some of the selections you shall find. An old jewelry store counter has been repurposed to house concessions, the eclectic cinema seats were also found and given a second life. The walls are lined with vintage movie posters as well as local movie-themed art. “We chose local street artist, Gus Cutty, for the centerpiece lobby artwork. We had seen his work around the city and knew he would share a vision with us, and his paintings turned out great,” says Davida.
Not only does the cinema look rad they play rad movies too…including classics which they refer to as the Grail Canon. Davida and Steve strive to show smaller indie films, foreign, and documentaries that most likely wouldn’t be playing in Asheville if they didn’t show them. Having a DCP projector allows them to show first run Hollywood films and in the other two theaters they currently have 1080p projectors. On Tuesday and Thursday nights they host the Asheville Film Society and show classic films including older horror flicks. Once a month they also host a local experimental film group – The Mechanical Eye Microcinema – that shows anything from animated 16mm films, personal works, to pretty much anything they can get their hands on. An upcoming screening Davida is looking forward to is “Inside Peace.” This focuses on a program for prison inmates to teach them how to cope once they are out of prison. “Screenings like that, Mechanical Eye, and some local work we have shown make me proud of our theater. I believe we have a purpose beyond just entertainment,” says Davida.
Of course the theater can’t be run with just two people. Currently they employ five part timers who work concessions and their manager, (our MJ creator) Francis Friel who assists the duo with all things they don’t want to do and LOVES IT. As Davida puts it, Steve is the Tech Guy/Film Guy, managing all the projection, creating the pre-show loops, and setting up all the wiring – including internet, media, and sound. Davida on the other hand manages emails, writes the checks, deals with studio/box office reports, and concessions among other things. “I try to stay away from the tech as much as possible,” explains Davida. “Fran is next level genius when it comes to film history and information and he is also Steve’s back up for all technical issues.”
Owning a theater is fun but it comes with its challenges too. “The two biggest challenges for us are time and money,” explains Davida. Steve and Davida have five kids between them and have to balance their schedules along with the time required of a new business that is predominantly operating at night. “There will always be tons to do, but it is nice to know we have someone [Francis] who can handle all the problems that might pop up and whom we trust without a doubt. With him we know there is someone there that cares about The Grail just as much as we do,” remarks, Davida. When it comes to money, the couple finds many decisions are based on necessity and they will always be trying to improve the venue. “Lack of money has made us very resourceful and creative and shown us that this is possible with the right skills and knowledge,” explains Davida.
The Grail Moviehouse is the type of theater that you feel connected to unlike the multiplex monsters. Davida is fond of the small indie cinemas and all of their “quirkiness.” “I like the theaters that showed movies I like. I did love the Carolina before it was taken over here in Asheville (purchased by Cinemark in March 2016) mainly for the classics that they showed,” says Davida. “We just went to an old one-screen theater in a town near here. The aisles were tight – I’m sure they wouldn’t pass current fire code, the seats were giant, comfy, and very dirty, the ceiling was crumbly, and there were rips in the fabric on the walls, but I saw It’s A Wonderful Life for the first time in that theater – and it was awesome,” says Davida.
I was fortunate enough to visit The Grail Moviehouse in July and it was truly a memorable experience. If you have the opportunity to venture to The Grail Moviehouse you will immediately realize how much thought and care David and Steve have put into creating this cinema for their guests to enjoy. Places like The Grail Moviehouse are what going to the cinema is all about – an unforgettable experience that allows you to get lost in a moving picture. A picture house created by people that really know/appreciate film (and may possibly be made of film). “We have a stake in this business beyond just showing movies, and we really want people to enjoy their experience and what they see,” explains Davida.
I wish that Philadelphia offered such a venue. If only I lived closer or, better yet, found myself employed as an Usher at the grand Grail Moviehouse. I really do miss sweeping up all those popcorn leavings. So, Davida are you hiring?
Questions I just had to ask…
What is your favorite movie concession?
I love Junior Mints, Swedish Fish, and Peanut M&Ms, but in a movie, nothing beats popcorn.
What are some of your rules when it comes to movie theater etiquette?
Obviously no one should be using their phone for texting or calls, but beyond that I always hated when people came in late and I hate to let people into a movie late. I just feel like it is so disruptive for the customers in there. I think that’s why I hate to go in to check the theater when a movie is playing. I know it is necessary, but it feels so rude!! (Thankfully they have THE FRANTOM).
Visit The Grail Moviehouse: grailmoviehouse.com