The Broad Theater opens The Broadside outdoor movie and event space in Mid-City | Film

Shaniqua Juliano

Local drive-in movie and concert events have sold out quickly since the pandemic shutdowns began, but it’s restaurants that got The Broad Theater’s Brian Knighten thinking about opening an outdoor venue. When the city of New Orleans announced in May that restaurants could apply for permits to have outdoor seating, […]

Local drive-in movie and concert events have sold out quickly since the pandemic shutdowns began, but it’s restaurants that got The Broad Theater’s Brian Knighten thinking about opening an outdoor venue. When the city of New Orleans announced in May that restaurants could apply for permits to have outdoor seating, he started planning.

The Broadside opened Oct. 7 to screen the vice presidential debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence. Outdoor films kicked off with Jim Jarmusch’s New Orleans-set arthouse classic, “Down by Law,” and director Alex Gibney’s new documentary “Totally Under Control” about the U.S.’s failure to handle the coronavirus pandemic.

The Broadside features a giant screen and stage in a fenced-in gravel lot with seating for 100 people in pairs of Adirondack chairs placed on spaced out mats. There’s a mobile trailer for tickets, concessions and a bar, as well as some picnic tables.

Knighten expects to schedule daytime entertainment for children, such as puppet shows and magicians. There will be music events, such as jazz trios, singer-songwriters or DJs, and at night, it will show movies.

Upcoming films include Brandon Cronenberg’s sci-fi assassin movie “Possessor,” and director Justin Simien’s horror comedy “Bad Hair,” starring Elle Lorraine, Vanessa Williams, Jay Pharoah, Kelly Rowland, Usher and many others. It’s being released by Hulu, and screens at 15 theaters across the nation, Knighten says. There will be more horror films such as “Poltergeist” in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

Knighten says he was able to get permitting for the space approved fairly quickly, but there are no permanent plans or construction in the space.

“We’ve got to see how things go,” Knighten says. “It’s been a rapid-fire approach, and it’s about saving The Broad Theater and saving jobs.”

Before the pandemic, Knighten was planning to add another theater building with four screens, which would have expanded the mix of Hollywood and arthouse offerings.

The pandemic has crushed movie theaters. The Regal theater chain announced last week that it would shutter all of its more than 525 theaters, including those in Kenner and Covington.

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The Broad Theater reopened in June, limited to 25% capacity. But Knighten says attendance has been well below that threshold. Even with the limit being raised to 50%, The Broad will stick with its 25% configuration.

“The road to getting people back in theaters has been more difficult that we thought,” Knighten says.

Zeitgeist Theatre & Lounge was the first local theater to reopen in May. Chalmette Movies opened in June but is currently closed. The AMC Theatre chain started reopening local theaters in August. While theaters have benefitted from re-releases of popular movies, Hollywood delayed releases of anticipated summer movies. Despite the wait, the spy thriller “Tenet” didn’t meet expectations at the box office in the U.S. Other movie releases were shifted to streaming platforms.

In November, The Broadside will be a venue for two weeks of outdoor film screenings by the New Orleans Film Festival, which runs Nov. 6-22. Festival screenings at the Broadside include Bill and Turner Ross’ locally shot feature “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” and the documentaries “Professor Longhair, Rugged & Funky” and “A Place Called Desire,” in which upper 9th Ward residents talk about the history and culture of the neighborhood. There also are slates of short films scheduled for the Broadside.

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The festival is creating its own temporary outdoor screening space with seating for 50 nearby at the Lafitte Greenway. The festival will present more than 160 films between its virtual and open-air screenings. Visit neworleansfilmsociety.org for more information about the film festival lineup.

For information about screenings at The Broadside, visit broadsidenola.com.

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