Slab Cinema, the longtime outdoor movie screening venture, now has a home.
The Slab Cinema Arthouse officially opens at 8 tonight at the Blue Star Arts Complex in Southtown with a screening of “Sunset Boulevard,” the 1950 classic Billy Wilder film starring Gloria Swanson as an aging silent film star. Saturday, it’s David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.” Admission is $10 per person each night.
Angela and Rick Martinez have been showing films in the San Antonio area for nearly two decades, and started renting the space at Blue Star, right next to the Blue Star Contemporary gallery, in July, hosting a variety of events. A few days prior, teens overtook the space for an evening of fun that included karaoke and art.
Angela Martinez approves of the creative madness.
The Arthouse “is just a place for people to come and be together,” said Martinez.
The teen night event is one of several test events the Martinez’ have been running since taking over the space.
In addition to movies, the Martinez’ plan to showcase art exhibitions and live performances in the space. One of the art events on their slate is the upcoming Fotoseptiembre USA festival, the series of exhibits showcasing’ photographic works. The festival will be held throughout September.
The Martinez’ plan specific to the indoor cinema screening concept is to show a mix of classic and foreign films, along with independent movies and documentaries produced by local filmmakers. The movies will be shown from the Janus Films distribution catalog, Angela Martinez said. The only modern movie she’ll make an exception for would be the 2021 film “Nobody” starring Bob Odenkirk. The actor is most famous for his portrayal of sleazy attorney Saul Goodman on “Breaking Bad” and its prequel series, “Better Call Saul.”
“That character built a relationship with us, so I can’t wait to show that movie to other people and be like, ‘ahhh’,” Martinez said.
The indoor movie screenings are an extension of the Martinez’ Slab Cinema, which they launched in 2002 in the parking lot of their now-defunct Planet of the Tapes video store on South St. Mary’s Street.
The couple moved to San Antonio from Albuquerque, N.M., a year prior to starting up the venture due to Rick’s job as an architectural designer and have taken their family-friendly movie screenings to various venues throughout the San Antonio area during its near 20-year existence. Years ago, they moved the screenings to a lot across from Tuna Icehouse and Grill after being approached by Michael Berrier, the bar’s co-owner.
The selling of the lot in 2008, which eventually became the Southtown Flats, temporarily closed the curtain on the outdoor movie events until the City of San Antonio came to the rescue. Since 2010, the couple, in collaboration with the city, have been showing movies on inflatable screens at venues throughout the San Antonio area, including Hemisfair, Main Plaza, the San Antonio Botanical Garden, Woodlawn Lake, and, most recently, Legacy Park.
The Martinez’ aim to accommodate 30 people at the Arthouse screenings; they “want people to be comfortable and see.”
“Covid or no Covid, you want people to have a good view of the screen, and you don’t want it to be packed,” said Angela Martinez. “It’s just about enjoying the movie and the space and not crowding the place.”
Food and beverages will be available during the Arthouse screenings, she added.
Providing a community-bonding cinematic experience is what drives the Martinez’s to spend $35,000 on movie screening licenses, or $450 per showing, throughout their entire existence. After all, Angela Martinez remembers feeling the same joy when she attended her first outdoor movie, “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” in Monaco while on a school trip. She doesn’t have any significant memories of the movie, other than it was shown “behind a building on a brick wall,” which captured her imagination.
Such memories sparked the their passion to give people the same quality of experience through their outdoor movie showings.
“I think that movies combined with place really makes a difference for us,” said Angela Martinez.
Running events at the Arthouse are a full-circle moment for the Martinezes.
She attended art events there ran by her friend Rhonda Kuhlman, who died in 2009. Angela Martinez felt the vibe of Kuhlman and other deceased local artists at the previously occupied space in June, when she stopped by there to drop off art made for the 80th birthday party of Mike Casey, the retired attorney and arts patron.
“I don’t think I can give this key back,” she remember thinking at the time.
“The answer was in front of us,” Angela Martinez remembered telling Rick.
For more information on Slab Cinema Arthouse events, visit slabcinemaarthouse.com.
Jose T. Garza III is a freelancer writer in San Antonio. Follow him on Twitter at @AztecsGarza.