A man waits for a performance on Oct. 13 at The Frank Banko Alehouse Cinema. The cinema screens art house films, international movies and seasonal classics. (Logan LaClair/B&W Staff)

Frank Banko Alehouse Cinema screens independent films, winter film series

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The Frank Banko Alehouse Cinema, a place where movie lovers can watch screenings of recently released art house films, international movies and seasonal classics during Halloween and Christmas, is inclusive to patrons who enjoy a wide variety of genres.

The independent cinema, located in the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, opened in 2011. It consists of two theaters — the red cinema, which sits 200 patrons, and the blue cinema, which seats 100.

The Frank Banko Alehouse is a first-run theater, meaning it screens new feature films, specifically independent and art house films. The cinema also specializes in a diverse catalog of repertory programming, which includes classic, cult and horror films.

“We don’t necessarily focus on booking blockbuster titles when it comes to new features, but sometimes we do surprise our patrons with titles such as the 2017 ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ which was a blast to show,” said cinema coordinator Lawrence Milano. “If we do exhibit a blockbuster, it is typically part of our repertory programming.”

ArtsQuest programming director Ryan Hill said when the cinema first opened, they “threw a lot against the wall to see what wouldn’t stick.” They now have a better idea of what their audience wants to see.

With winter approaching, the Frank Banko Alehouse Cinema is starting its annual Christmas Classic Series, which typically runs from late-November to mid-December. This year, the Christmas Classics Series is kicking off with a showing of “White Christmas” and concluding with “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The cinema will also show “The Bishop’s Wife,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and the original “Die Hard.”

In addition to the Christmas Classics Series, the theater showcases a number of series such as Summer Classics Series, which this past summer consisted of classic American films like “Jaws.”

Milano started volunteering at the Frank Banko Alehouse Cinema in 2011 and became a staff member in 2014. He takes pride in how much the theater has evolved over time.

“Over the years, I have observed the theater and organization changing and progressing into something truly magical,” Milano said. “Our theater is the only one of its kind in the Lehigh Valley, and we acknowledge that. With that in mind, we always do our best to bring something unique and special to our loyal base of patrons and newcomers.”

The cinema committee, which consists of film professors and other cinephiles, ultimately selects the films. The cinema’s staff holds monthly meetings to discuss which new films will be exhibited, and the films are then presented to the cinema committee for input and feedback. Along with Hill, Milano and cinema coordinator Anthony DeSanctis, the cinema committee makes the final decision regarding which movies will be screened.

In an effort to unite the community and form connections, the cinema has partnered with Lehigh on a few series of documentary films. Twice a year, the cinema works in conjunction with Lehigh to produce the Communities Film Series, which occurs once in the fall and once in the spring. Each time, the cinema presents three or four documentaries that focus on social issues such as healthcare, migration and the environment. 

“In the past, we have discussed issues such as immigration, poverty and veterans,” said Michael Kramp, an associate professor of English. “The series offers free public screenings of documentary films that prompt valuable community dialogue.”

These screenings are open to the public for free and usually feature discussions with professors and experts on related matters after the films. Although the targeted demographic for these events is usually university students, the events are open to everyone.

The cinema tends to attract an art house crowd, but in the last few years, it has attracted a wide range of age groups. Students mainly attend the repertory programming screenings such as Cult Saturdays, which showcase cult films on the third Saturday of every month, and First Saturday Horror screenings, which feature late night horror flicks on the first Saturday of the month. The Frank Banko Alehouse Cinema’s student discount is $8 with a student ID.

“I’ve attended some open mic nights held on Thursday nights both last year and this year,” David Owolabi, ’20, said. “I know that I would definitely go to the cinema, but I also think a lot of students wouldn’t just because they get super caught up in work and events on campus that they shut themselves out from events off campus.”

The cinema also hosts other events such as their annual Greater Lehigh Valley Filmmaker Festival, where local filmmakers are invited to submit short films and are given a chance to exhibit their works on the big screen in front of an audience. Submissions are now open for the 2018 festival and the grand prize winner will be awarded $500.

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