For the love of cinema

Brad Ritter is the president of the Charlotte Film Society and former manager of the Manor Theatre, Charlotte’s much beloved arthouse cinema that opened in 1947 and closed this spring. 

A native Ohioan, Ritter arrived in the Queen City back in 1990. Fresh out of school, he ventured down to Charlotte, jumping at the first opportunity that let him relocate to North Carolina. Fast forward two or three years later, a now-settled Ritter found himself with a lot of extra time on his hands. So out of boredom, the mid-twenty-something applied for a part-time job at the Manor Theatre in Myers Park.

“The manager thought I’d quit within a couple of weeks. But I fell in love with working at the theater,” Ritter recalled. “And I was lucky enough to get into the projection booth.” He quickly became the head projectionist. Back then, the movies were all 35mm film prints and arrived at the cinema as a set of multiple 20-minute reels, which had to be spliced together onto one big horizontal reel for the theater’s platter system projectors. Ritter was responsible for building up and breaking down all the movies that would come in and play. Eventually, he’d go on to manage the venerable cinema, seeing it through its closure at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Around the same time he began moonlighting at the Manor, Ritter began his 26-year-plus relationship with The Charlotte Film Society. The emerging cinephile enrolled in classes at CPCC in order to become better educated in the art of film and its history. One of Ritter’s professors turned out to be the president of the movie-focused nonprofit and invited the impressive student to join the group’s board.

Started in 1982, the Charlotte Film Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that seeks to bring motion pictures to town that otherwise would not see play. Basically, it concentrates on the smaller independent and foreign art films that the big chain theaters don’t bother to show. In the past, the group has relied on rented space at venues around town for its screenings.

“We [the Film Society] were able to move a lot of film through Charlotte,” recounted Ritter. “Back in the heyday, we were doing a one week every month film series.”

However, the closure of the Manor, Regal Ballantyne, and other arthouse cinemas has left a major void in the Charlotte film community. “We’ve lost 13 screens of art product in 27 months,” Ritter said. Many cities larger than Charlotte never boasted that much content. “When it was official that the Manor was going to close, I knew there was going to be a big void in the Charlotte community no longer having an arthouse.”

The Charlotte Film Society is hoping to step up and respond to the shocking loss of our city’s art theaters. In late July, the nonprofit announced its intention to open its own three-screen venue for independent, classic, and foreign films that will additionally serve as the home of film festivals and a resource for local filmmakers. According to Ritter, the group has looked at opening its own space three times in the past, but “it never felt right.” Competition with other established local art-focused cinemas and a lack of an appropriate available building stood in the way…until recently. 

Deciding to seize this moment as a long-awaited opportunity, the arts group has signed a letter of intent with The Flywheel Group to lease 4237 Raleigh Street in the outskirts of NoDa, part of the new Trailhead Arts District growing up around the Sugar Creek LYNX Blue Line, for the project.  Fundraising is now ongoing with a GoFundMe initiative aimed at raising the first $150,000 of capital for projection and sound equipment, and computer servers. If all goes according to plan, the new cinema will open in summer or fall of 2021.