My Pilgrimage to “The Nick”

The Columbia Film Society's Nickelodeon Theatre, aka 'The Nick', in Columbia, SC.

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting The Nickelodeon, aka “The Nick,” South Carolina’s Nonprofit Cinema since 1979. This is a trip I’d been wanting to make ever since I met executive director Larry Hembree, aka “Butch” (you’ll have to visit the Nick’s website, click on the “Move the Nick” banner and watch the video clip to fully appreciate that one), and associate director and programmer Andy Smith at the 2007 National Alliance for Media Art + Culture (NAMAC) Conference in Austin, Texas.

These guys run a 77-seat microcinema in a storefront that borders the South Carolina State House. The morning before I visited the Nick and met up with Larry and Andy for a beer at the venerable across-the-street watering hole, the Hunter Gatherer Brewery and Ale, I went for a 30-minute run to scope things out. As “Dixie” played through my head, I thought I had accidentally ripped a hole in the space-time continuum and suddenly reappeared back in Richmond, Virginia. Our cities share a love of monuments to the Lost Cause. But I digress …

I saw the 5:30 p.m. screening of Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, which features the always-mesmerizing Juliette Binoche. This was Kiarostami’s first feature made outside of Iran, and Binoche won the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her performance. Though I enjoyed the film, the main attraction for me was the Nick itself. I wanted to see it up close — experience a movie there, talk with the projectionist and volunteers — and fuel my dream of starting something like the Nick in Richmond. It really did help to see this humble storefront and feel the positive energy that a cultural epicenter like this can both generate and attract. The young woman working the ticket counter was a new volunteer in training. The patrons seemed to me to be regulars. The staff were passionate, committed and fun to hang out with. That’s the kind of place I want to create for the James River Film Society, for Richmond, for us.

The Nick is planning their move to the former Fox Theatre on the other side of the State House. They are making a big leap of faith that really is the culmination of a lot of hard work, planning, small steps, energy and enthusiasm by a lot of people. Larry and Andy and the others I met are the current crop of committed staff and volunteers in a long line who have made the Nick a vital cultural institution in Columbia, SC.

I am inspired by my pilgrimage to “The Nick,” and I have renewed my commitment to getting our own Nick established in Richmond. Please join me — join the James River Film Society — in creating our own Mecca for independent film lovers in our fair city. We deserve it.

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