Coronavirus Got You Down? Why Not Watch Something Odd Tonight?

ALEXANDRIA, VA — A group of Northern Virginia movie enthusiasts are not letting the coronavirus pandemic stop them from sharing their love of weird or unusual cult films.

Dave Harter of Alexandria and David Laughton of Arlington, co-organizers of Oddball Cinema, are posting recommendations online for anyone who wants to watch something a little different while they’re stuck at home due to the coronavirus.

“We schedule the films and we say we’re going to watch this film at this time, this date, and people can watch it whatever way they want,” Harter said.

Viewers can check out the film on DVD or Blu-ray, or by using streaming services like Amazon Prime or Netflix. Harter and Laughton also recommend using Kanopy.

“It’s made specifically for libraries,” Harter said. “If you have a library card, you can see if your library is a subscriber. If they are, you can watch a lot of films from the Criterion Collection. They have a lot of foreign films. They have their own A-24 section and it’s a really good.”

The idea for Oddball Cinema started when Harter was watching Slacker, the debut film of Richard Linklater. Reading over the Criterion Edition notes about the film, Harter learned that as a young movie buff, Linklater had watched arthouse movies at a theater in Austin, Texas.

Harter wondered why there wasn’t a theater like that in the D.C. area that could show the weird, cult movies he loved.

“There are a few movie theaters around here,” he said. “There’s the Suns in Washington, D.C. Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse shows some of that kind of stuff sometimes, the Angelika, and the Silver Spring AFI, but I really wasn’t aware of a lot of those.”

At the time, Harter was already hanging out with poker groups on Meetup, when he decided to start a group where people could get together to watch oddball movies.

“We’ll just show weird movies and cult movies and it’ll probably end up being me and like three other guys watching Pink Flamingos at my apartment,” he said. “But within 24 hours, we had 30 people and within a week it was over 100. It just kept on growing and growing. Now we’re at more than 1,200.”

Since the beginning, Oddball Cinema has been primarily showing its films at libraries around Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax County. The advantage of that is the libraries have the necessary means of hosting an event, such as projectors, screens, and audience seating. More importantly, though, the libraries also have an umbrella license that allows for the public screening of movies.

“By making those library events, we can use their umbrella licenses, show films, and then the library can say that they have a certain number of events for that are aimed at an adult audience,” Harter said. “So, we’re doing them a favor, they’re doing us a favor, and that’s where we show most of our movies.”

Laughton was among the first dozen or so members to attend those early library screenings. When Harter learned he had a collection of more than 600 movies — many of them in the oddball category — in his home theater, he made Laughton co-organizer for the group

“There’s something unusual about them,” Laughton said, about the movies in his collection. “They’re not well-known, mainstream films. If you want to see The Wizard of Oz or Lawrence of Arabia, you don’t need us to show you that. If you want to see Wax or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees, you come to us.”

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When Laughton approached the Charles E. Beatley. Jr. Central Library in Alexandria about doing an Oddball Cinema screening in their auditorium, he was told nobody comes to the library to watch movies.

“If nothing else, I have a splendid supply of chutzpah,” Laughton said. “And I said, you let me choose the movies, I’ll bring in the audience. So they gave me a test of five movies in a row. I presented the French Fantasy Film Festival and the first show had 17 people. The Library was delighted.”

Laughton warned everyone that the next showing was going to be grotesque and disturbing. The audience doubled the second week. Over the course of those five films, Oddball Cinema had as many as 40 people in attendance per screening.

“After that, the library said, you can show a movie the third Thursday of every month until Y3K,” Laughton said. “So, they’re doing very well. They’re very happy with the use of the room.”

Harter also reached out to the owner of the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse and pitched him a the idea of a regular weird movie screening. Now he hosts Keeping It Weird Wednesdays.

“For that, the theater covers the movie rights, but also they collect all the ticket sales,” Harter said. “I don’t make anything off of it, but it doesn’t cost me anything either. Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse has been incredibly generous to us and allowing us to have that big screen where we can show some of those films that really benefit from that type of venue.”

Like other Meetup groups, Oddball Cinema members will socialize occasionally by going to see movies together or maybe grabbing a drink and having dinner after one of their screenings. For the time being, everyone is at home waiting for the world to reopen.

To find out more about Oddball Cinema or get recommendations of movies to watch, visit their Meetup page.

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