Escapism Film Festival
Carolina Theatre
Oct. 16-18

One thousand tickets. That’s what the Escapism Film Festival, running this weekend at Durham’s Carolina Theatre, needs to sell if moviegoers want to see it around for another year.

Jim Carl, senior director of the Carolina Theatre, is blunt about this. “Basically, this festival, if the attendance isn’t there this year, and there’s no sense that there’s a demand for it, won’t be back for 2010. We’re a nonprofit, but this needs to at least make up its expenses.”

His solution? Nostalgia. With a lineup that’s geared toward movies most 30-ish Triangle residents will likely remember from their childhoods (and their parents will remember from their childhoods), this year’s Escapism is determined to get audiences to relive their fondest movie-going memoriesor at least go out with a bang trying.

The Escapism festival started seven years ago as a showcase for Hong Kong-type action films in the wake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s success. (It skipped one year when the theater was closed for renovations.) It’s been a showcase for high-octane genre cinema, combining screenings of older films (Tron, They Live) with such newer entries as The Host and Let the Right One In.

But there was a disadvantage to this approach, Carl says. The festival had trouble establishing a firm identity, and the newer films hadn’t yet built up the buzz genre material needs to attract a wide audience.

“We’d play these films at Escapism, almost no one would show up, and then I’d get a call three months later asking when we were going to get them,” Carl says with a laugh. (One highlight of last year, the “Ozploitation” documentary Not Quite Hollywood, only got a DVD release on Oct. 6.)

To get to the 1,000-ticket total, the festival needs to recoup its expenses (the total is for the number of individual tickets sold, not 10-pack passes), Carl cast a wide net by emphasizing nothing but older films that were, for the most part, family-friendly.

Carl found that the Carolina Theatre’s monthly genre-film screening Retrofantasma attracted big crowds with such PG-rated films as Clue and Jaws. “I was floored by the number of parents who brought their kids to Retro to let them see these classics back on the big screen, especially Jawswe had nearly 200 people for that particular screening,” Carl said.

“A lightbulb went off in my headthere is really an audience in the Triangle who grew up in the 1980s and late 1970s who has a real desire to go back to the theater and see some of the films from when they were younger, and bring their kids with them.”

The current lineup includes entries from the 1960s (Dr. Strangelove, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the original Planet of the Apes), the 1970s (Escape to Witch Mountain, The Black Hole, Superman: The Movie) and the 1980s (Back to the Future, The Goonies, Return to Oz).

In addition to these films, there are three more entries at Escapism that will be of particular interest to genre buffs. On Saturday at 2 p.m., there will be a one-time-only screening of the original 1978 theatrical release of the pilot to the TV series Battlestar Galactica. Fans of the more recent series, with its real-world allegory and dark storylines, can experience the soaring music, blatant Star Wars rip-offs and Lorne Greene as Adama that only the original series can offer.

Another highlight is the last surviving North American 35mm print of 1980’s Flash Gordon, memorable for its soaring Queen soundtrack (“He’ll save every one of us!”), elaborate sets and incredibly campy screenplay (“Flash, I love you! But we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!”).

And a particularly rare classic is the 1982 adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s classic novel The Last Unicorn, rarely seen on the big screen but a cult classic from showings on TV and video (Beagle has complained he hasn’t received a dime from DVD sales). It’s an elegiac, often witty piece that that asks some surprisingly deep questions about love and mortality.

The Last Unicorn was a surprise,” says Carl, who’ll be passing out information about Beagle’s problems with the DVDs at the festival. “I thought people would jump for Battlestar Galactica, Flash Gordon and Dr. Strangelove, but once the schedule was made public, people lost their minds when they heard about The Last Unicorn. It completely stunned me!” He soon moved the screening from the small 76-seat Cinema One to the 270-seat Cinema Two. “It seems to be the title out of all the programming that people are most excited to see back on the big screen.”

Carl says he wants to do a unique weekend, “trying to make you feel wistful about times past.” “They’re great films, and they deserve to be seen on the big screen,” he says. He’s already got a number of films picked out for next year’s festival, but this weekend will determine if there’ll be a next one.

The Escapism Film Festival opens at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 16 with Dr. Strangelove. Individual tickets are $8, $6 for Star Members and kids 12 and under; a 10-pack of tickets is $65, and $55 for Star Members. For more information, visit or call the box office at 560-3030.