Grand Ambitions 

Hotshot new programmer puts Renaissance Rialto in East Bay rep driver's seat.

Nice job by Michael Fox's Reel World column in last week's SF Weekly, reporting on the move of talented ex-Roxie Cinema programmer Elliot Lavine to the camp of Allen Michaan's Renaissance Rialto. What Fox forgot to ask, however, was what Renaissance's new tilt toward repertory booking could mean to the East Bay movie biz.

"I took one look at that auditorium and said, 'God, I'd love to program for this room,'" says Lavine from the Alameda office of Michaan's Auctions by the Bay. He was talking about the ornate main house of the Grand Lake, which has mainly been devoted to first-run films as the centerpiece of Renaissance's four-venue, ten-screen mini-empire. Michaan hasn't dabbled much in repertory since he operated the old Rialto on Berkeley's Gilman Street in the 1980s. But that's changing. Lavine and Michaan have already scheduled "Noir by the Bay," an ambitious 28-feature film noir series running from September 26 through October 9 that has the same knowledgeable film-buff sizzle as the noir fests Lavine put on at the Roxie. And if noir sells tickets at the Grand Lake, it could open up the floodgates.

Renaissance main man Michaan confirms that he's thinking repertory. "More and more first-run films are opening and dying out quickly these days," he explains. "And so many screens in the East Bay are playing the same thing. The Grand Lake is a special place. We decided to take a screen away from the commercial side and see what happens. If this is well-received, we'll do more rep."

Lavine's Roxie programs are legendary. He and Roxie owner Bill Banning played everything from rep faves such as Quadrophenia and the Trailer Camp reels to shockeroo material like Cannibal Holocaust and Freeway with bad girl Reese Witherspoon. Now, after making a handshake deal with Michaan to expand the new "Movie Classics by the Bay" classics series at Michaan's Auctions by the Bay theater in Alameda (Friday through Sunday, daily change), Lavine is obviously eager to bring the same Mission District rep-house friskiness to the majestic confines of the Grand Lake. Alongside the venerable Paramount and SF's Castro, the Grand Lake is one of the Bay Area's very best places to watch a classic movie. The film noir fest is a rep trial balloon, but even before that happens -- this week, in fact -- the Grand Lake is opening a remastered print of the 1938 Errol Flynn-Michael Curtiz The Adventures of Robin Hood. "By the time we roll into November," Lavine enthuses, "people will be freaking out."

The competition may be freaking out, as well. When informed of Renaissance's plans to play a film noir fest the week after his own noir series runs at the nearby Parkway Theater, Parkway booker Will Viharo laughed, "They're muscling into our territory, like a mob. What are they going to do next? Sell beer and wine? But seriously, they'll have their audience and we'll have ours. The venues are so different -- the Parkway is more of a funky grind. It's all good for Oakland. If anything, we should mob up." For rep-loving East Bay audiences, it could be the beginning of a whole new crime wave.

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