Lincoln City’s Bijou Theatre is known for delivering great movie-watching experiences and sponsoring playful movie promos. In late October it turns the spotlight onto films shot locally for its Oregon Made Film Festival.
Every Monday at 1:30 p.m., Mac Pimentel, of Pacific City, sits down at the Allen organ in the 1937-vintage Bijou Theatre to play for a half hour before the first showing of the day. That’s something you don’t see every day at contemporary multiplexes. Yet, it’s not the only thing that sets this 127-seat jewel of a movie theater apart.
Owners Keith and Betsy Altomare have a talent for getting first-run films. This can be a tough feat for small-town theaters. But that’s still not all that makes the Bijou unique.
For the Altomares, the Bijou’s a place “where movies still matter,” as they like to say. If you ask Keith, he’ll tell you the key difference lies in how people are treated when they arrive at the Bijou.
“Our philosophy is that the show starts on the sidewalk,” Keith said. “We offer great customer service and prices that don’t break the bank. It’s the whole experience.”
That experience starts when the newly refurbished neon marquee beckons you to depart from the day-to-day for a couple hours with a bag of affordable popcorn and a good story. Upon entry, you step into a bit of film history with the lobby walls papered in posters and memorabilia, including letters from dignitaries and a certificate naming the Bijou as Lincoln City’s 2016 Business of the Year.
And then there’s the candy counter.
“We love to sell candy and popcorn,” Keith said. “But we’re still mainly here for the movie. For some other theaters the focus is more on selling concessions, so the experience is different.”
Dinner and a Movie
But movie staples, such as candy and popcorn, aren’t the only things on tap at the Bijou. Oregon-crafted beers and wines are now available. And who doesn’t like a pairing of popcorn and chardonnay? Perhaps with a Red Vines chaser?
If you need more than popcorn or Junior Mints to make it through a 90-minute film, you can order take-out food at the Bijou 15 minutes before showtime for an in-theater dining experience.
“We got together with Grill 1626, on the corner, and made our own menu,” Betsy said. “So you can choose from an assortment of sandwiches and fries every day except Tuesday. On Tuesdays the choices are savory and sweet croissants from My Petite Sweet, the bakery across the street.”
In addition to the personal touches, including Betsy’s informative, can’t-miss film introductions, it’s the cinematic quality that keeps audiences coming back. The Altomares report that sometimes people think because the Bijou is an older building, it may not be up to speed technologically. But among the most important upgrades for the Bijou was its jump to digital a few years ago to accommodate changing film formats. The move complements its cutting-edge sound system.
The Altomares also recently got a grant to replace and repair portions of the nonfunctioning house curtains.
“When we first bought the theater the red velvet curtains opened and closed – until they didn’t,” Betsy said. “So now we just leave them open.”
Keith notes that when the curtains are replaced, hopefully in October 2019, the plan is to have a Red-Velvet Weekend.
“If you wear red, there are going to be prizes involved in the red-velvet curtain premiere,” Keith said.
A Sense of Community
Over the 23 years they’ve been at the Bijou’s helm, the Altomares have gotten to know many of the people who make up the theater’s audiences.
“I love having a whole group of people in the theater, watching a movie together and talking to them as they come in and out,” Betsy said.
And whether it’s chatting with regulars, teaming up with other local businesses, hosting weekly games of Trivial Pursuit or staging imaginative movie promotions, the pleasure the couple gets from community involvement is apparent.
Fortunately, many of the Bijou’s devotees also have a playful streak. It’s not uncommon to find them singing along with a film’s soundtrack or applauding as credits role.
“For instance,” Keith said, “When we played Yesterday, people stayed through all the credits, singing “Hey Jude” together. When we had Rocketman, they applauded almost every showing. That’s a highlight for me. It shows they had a good time.”
Bijou audiences are also not shy about participating in costume events, as Betsy can attest.
“When we played My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, which initially many people wouldn’t have seen, a group of girlfriends got dressed up as if going to a wedding,” she said.
And what small-town theater would be complete without an annual midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show around Halloween? The one at the Bijou features a costume contest and a live performance by actors from Portland’s Clinton Street Theater.
A promotion during the showing of Rocketman, which called for people to make a pair of glasses a la Elton John, resulted in a number of people vying for a spot in a lobby with a display of extravagant eyewear.
And coming soon: (Perhaps the biggest movie of the year, according to Betsy)
“We’re getting Downton Abbey in September,” she said. “The movie producers are allowing some theaters, including the Bijou, to have a sneak screening September 12, a week before wide release.”
Tickets for Downton Abbey go on sale August 20, and Betsy is hoping put together a tea-party package deal at My Petite Sweet, as she has done for particular movies in the past. Stay tuned.
Oregon Made Film Festival
From October 25 through 31, the Bijou will celebrate films made in the Beaver State via its Oregon Made Film Festival, made possible through a grant from Explore Lincoln City. In support of the city’s goal of showing visitors that Lincoln City can be just as entertaining in the fall as in the summer – though possibly less congested along Highway 101 – the Altomares have scheduled an impressive lineup.
“Three of the films are very local,” Betsy said, “like Sometimes a Great Notion, filmed along the Siletz River; Burning Plain, shot at Tidal Raves restaurant in Depoe Bay; and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, filmed on location in Salem as well as Depoe Bay.”
Showings are also planned for Goonies, Stand By Me, The Ring, Paint Your Wagon, The General, Bend of the River and Phoenix, Oregon.
The last of these, Phoenix, Oregon, is an independent film from a Pacific Northwest studio.
“It’s about a guy who reopens a run-down bowling alley and ends up serving great pizza,” Keith said, adding that the storyline runs somewhat parallel to that of the former DeLake Bowling Alley in Lincoln City.
Built in the 1930s, it was recently renovated by its new owners, and by many accounts, now, as the Olde Line Lanes & Kitchen, offers great pizza.
“So the city wants to do a pizza week to celebrate pizza and the movie,” Keith said. Writer/director, Gary Lundgren, and producer, Anne Lundgren, will also be on hand to talk about the film, which was shot in Klamath Falls.
Documentaries are also scheduled, including some Oregon-specific shorts, presented by Taft High School alum, Michael Harrington, of the Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival. And Darrell Jabin, of Salem, will present his films about Oregon carousels and theaters.
Requiem for a Town
One intriguing documentary, by Aurora-based filmmaker Ronan Feely, zeroes in on the story of Valsetz, a community established in 1920 in the Coast Range, near Falls City. It had been a Boise-Cascade-owned sawmill and logging town, and when the decision was made to close down operations in 1984, the entire town was destroyed. Ever since, the former residents have held reunions every few years, to mark the passing of a home town to which they can never return.
“I saw a DVD of it, and was struck by the loyalty the people have for Valsetz,” Keith said. “I couldn’t imagine not being able to take my daughter to where I grew up. I just wanted to do something.”
The Bijou is inviting the town’s former residents to share their stories during the film festival.
“Besides the fact that people would enjoy a weekend here, I thought it would be great if the city could open its arms to them” Keith said. “And the director, Feely, is willing to come out and talk.”
People visit Lincoln City for its beaches in good weather and storm watching in bad weather – oh, and the outlet mall year round. The town is, after all, nestled on one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world.
Yet, Lincoln City has also steadily gained traction as a festival magnet that draws visitors from across the country – and even across the globe – to attend everything from kite festivals to music festivals. But if Betsy and Keith Altomare have their way, the area will also become known for the Bijou Theatre and its Oregon Made Film Festival.
Watch out Sundance.
The Bijou Theatre is located at 1624 NE Hwy. 101, Lincoln City. For more information, go to cinemalovers.com.
Friday, Oct. 25
2 p.m.: “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) R • Depoe Bay, Salem
4:45 p.m.: “Stand By Me” (1986) R • Cottage Grove, Franklin, Brownsville
7:30 p.m.: “Sometimes A Great Notion” (1971) PG • Newport, Fogarty Beach, Siletz River
Saturday, Oct. 26
2 p.m.: “The General” (1926) G • Cottage Grove, with introduction From Dean Ingram
4:30 p.m.: “The Goonies” (1985) PG • Astoria
7:30 p.m.: “Home: The Story of Valsetz” (2011) • Valsetz, with director Ronan Feely
Sunday, Oct. 27
1 p.m.: “The Goonies”
4 p.m.: “Paint Your Wagon” (1969) PG-13 • Baker
7:30 p.m.: Wandering Reel Oregon Shorts with Michael Harrington
Monday, Oct. 28
2 p.m.: “Animal House” (1978) R • Eugene, Cottage Grove
4:30 p.m.: “Stand By Me”
7:30 p.m.: “Phoenix, Oregon” (2019) R, • Klamath Falls, with director Gary Lundgren and Joma Films Anne Lundgren
Tuesday, Oct. 29
2 p.m.: Two Documentaries — “History of Oregon Carousels” & “History of Oregon Movie Theatres,” with historian Darrell Jabin
4:30 p.m.: “Bend of The River” (1952) PG • Mt. Hood, Columbia River, Timberline
7:30 p.m.: “The Burning Plain” (2008) R • Portland, Depoe Bay
Wednesday, Oct. 30
2 p.m. “Paint Your Wagon”
5:15 p.m.: “Animal House”
7:30 p.m.: “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”
Thursday, Oct. 31
2 p.m.: “Phoenix, Oregon”
4:30 p.m.: “Bend of The River”
7:30 p.m.: “The Ring” (2002) PG-13 • Newport, Astoria