By early 2016, the Grail Moviehouse will open in downtown Asheville, at 45 S. French Broad Ave. Plans and construction have begun on a two-screen space with roughly 250 seats. There, Steve White and his partner Davida Horwitz are planning on booking mainstream films, a variety of classics, documentaries and art films. They will also reach out to area media artists and filmmakers to program local content.
“The Grail takes its inspiration from several innovative cinemas popping up around the country like the Trylon Microcinema [Minneapolis], Ragtag Cinema [Columbia, Mo.], The Moxie [Springfield, Mo.] and L.A.’s Cinefamily,” White says. “These smaller venues are bringing flexible, unique programming to a hungry audience. We hope to learn from their success and program films that give downtown audiences more choices.”
White and Horwitz had been looking for a spot to build a theater for the past year and finally found what they think is the perfect location. The theater will occupy much of the rear of the building, which also houses Hopey & Co., The Downtown Market and Sly Grog Lounge. The owners are targeting a January debut, but if progress moves ahead of schedule, The Grail could be up and running this fall.
White has many years of movie theater experience, including work at the Chelsea and Carolina in Chapel Hill. He then produced and directed the 35mm feature Immortal in 1995, and worked on a few other indies during that time. He moved to Asheville in 2001 where, as a corporate producer, he works in film, video and digital media.
“We’re going to have one screen that feels like a theater and the other like a funky screening space that we can have fun with,” White says. “We’ll be booking one in a way that will allow a sort of a la carte schedule. We hope to rotate films frequently and open up slots for the occasional local program.”
Both sections will feature all-digital projection. The larger side will have DC-compatible equipment and a 7.1 THX system that was pulled from a 90-seat New York City screening room that White has been told was used by Woody Allen. The furniture will be all traditional theater seats with cup holders, a few flat rows and five on risers.
The smaller side will initially have 1080p video with a 5.1 sound system and a proprietary cinema server that may be upgraded to DCI after the theater opens. A few rows of theater seats with flip-up desks on risers will join arm chairs up front, similar to Indywood in New Orleans. That side will also be configurable for event rentals, classes and other group gatherings.
The Grail will have a Century 35mm projector as well, but White says it’s likely to become lobby art. He’s also considering a professional 16mm in the back of the smaller side for special programming, such as the traveling Raleigh-based A/V Geeks or Found Footage shows. If White can get 35mm on a budget, he’ll add that, too.
“We are also going to be reaching out to other businesses in the area to help bring a classics series to downtown,” says White. “We would love to have a different classic film every week and are working on a sponsorship program that we think will be a great deal for our partners.” He’s also investigating options for outdoor shows on the property.
In addition to traditional concessions, The Grail plans to offer local beer, various popcorn options (such as an air-popped organic flavor of the day), locally sourced snacks and a few quirky ideas that White says he and Horwitz are kicking around.
To make The Grail the best it can be, the owners strive to involve the community in every step of the theater’s development and welcome suggestions via email. The theater has adopted the motto “Movies people love for people who love movies” and fully intends to abide by that concept.
“We want to make a fun place to get together with other people and have a good time watching a movie,” White says. “It can be a classic, foreign, art, bad cinema, blockbuster, animation, silent, kids or a local 15-year-old’s masterpiece. We want people to say ‘What’s at the Grail?’ knowing they will have a nice night at the movies.”