For some of us, film can provide a form of escape. When we sit down to watch a movie (for instance, at an independent theater) we enter another world. It could be a fantasy world, or a world from the past, or a world that strikingly resembles our own. Like a dream, film gives us a place where our minds can seize the opportunity to get away from the thoughts and troubles of our reality, and imagine the undertaking of new experiences and perspectives. All films, and especially good ones, captivate their audience by nurturing this escape, feeding a string of environments, characters, and stories into these worlds that help us relate, and engage with their premise.
But as personally enchanting as the visual stories of film can be, sometimes we don’t quite notice that this activity can be supported, and even enhanced when we share it with others on the big screen in a movie theater. The maximized visuals and audio of the theater can reinforce the power of any film, and when we partake in this experience with others, looking at the same screen in the same room, with friends, family, or strangers, we come closer together. In the moment, we experience both physically and mentally that dreaming, imagining and exploring with others is a deeply human need, and one that we all share.
Film is a powerful vehicle for creating this intimate connection between total strangers, and it’s at the heart of what we offer the Salt Lake City community at Salt Lake Film Society. We show diverse and engaging independent films that help open minds and hearts, and provide experiences outside of ourselves that bring us closer to others. And through our independent theaters, we are committed to creating and nurturing community spaces where everyone can have shared experiences with one another.
Why The Big Screen Matters
SLFS believes in the big screen independent theater experience and the power of communal cinema, and we want to tell you why. Movie theaters have always been a pillar of the art of film, and the entertainment industry since the first ones started popping up in the late 19th century. But lately, with the modern era of streaming and nearly unlimited digital access to films becoming the norm, movie theaters have taken a bit of a hit over the years. For some, the convenience of at-home viewing has seemingly started to outweigh the big-screen movie theater experience.
But for many others, there is no substitute for the big screen independent cinema experience and the value it adds to their viewing experience. When you buy a ticket and you take your seat at a theater, you are making a purposeful commitment of attention to both the film and the story. It’s much harder to not engage when the screen nearly takes up your entire field of vision and the sound has the ability to shake your bones.
Car engines rumble loudly, wide vistas appear truly expansive, and the quiet tension of a killer stalking their victim is heard and felt throughout the theater. When you watch a film in a theater, the specificity of what you see, hear, and feel is amplified, and consequently amplifies the experience of the story too. You become immersed in it mind, body, and emotions.
But don’t just take our word for it. According to Jeffery Zacks, a professor of psychology at Washington University, the real-life stimuli and the empathetic reasoning that often produces emotion in our lives is not only replicated, but it’s intensified when we watch a movie. “In real life, we see people who cry and we watch bad things happen — all these things make us feel sad. But in a movie, you crank those things up to 11… [a filmmaker] can control exactly what’s shown, and what else is present.”
Zacks says this effect is even stronger when it comes to watching a film in a theater. “Bigger screens also produce more robust responses… you’re sitting in a dark room where everything else is cut off, the viewer has much less opportunity to walk away or focus on other things… it’s just taking the mechanisms that we encounter in real life and just really pushing all the buttons at once.”
The Independent Theater Experience
The sensory amplification of watching a movie on the big screen is a critical part of why the theater experience makes for a significantly superior experience, but it’s not the only reason. While distractions from not-so-respectful movie-goers can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth, we can’t forget the many positive ways in which communal cinema is powerful and an incredibly humanizing experience.
Watching a film with others in a movie theater heightens the empathy, sympathy and connectedness of communal engagement through visual storytelling. Sharing laughs, gasps, and quietly sad moments with friends and strangers is how people become more present with each other. These shared experiences of emotion and physical responses reaffirm the themes, messages, and emotions that a film is trying to convey. The immersive physical space, along with the shared emotional responses is why films seen in a real independent cinema foster more empathy and compassion for people you don’t even know.
For independent theaters like Broadway Centre Cinemas and Tower Theatre that focus on showing independent films, this effect is even more powerful. We make it our mission to not only show thought-provoking films, but to also create a safe and accepting place where people can comfortably experience these stories, thoughts, and feelings with each other. It is our hope that the empathetic and social bonding that begins on the screen, will continue outside of the theater and into the conversations, ruminations, and lives of our moviegoers long after the credits roll.
Independent Cinema in Salt Lake City – SLFS
At Salt Lake Film Society, we believe deeply in the positive power of communal cinema to improve society, especially when it takes place through the big-screen independent theater experience. SLFS is proud to provide consistent, affordable access to inspiring stories that the community can share with each other. Through the films we show and the atmosphere we cultivate, we believe communal cinema can foster passionate conscientiousness in our community. So come join us (and your fellow community members) for a film! It just might change your life.