When night falls on downtown Fresno, dozens of mostly 20- and 30-somethings duck into bars, homes and tech companies. Some choose to form gangs, leaving a scant paper trail of only the odd Facebook post or two. Their suppliers have sprung from nowhere to fill a hole left by a big-time player on Fulton Street.
You may not know it, but an underground movie cult is growing in the city’s center. And a handful of grassroots film series are providing a free, laid-back atmosphere for both cult fans and those looking for something to do in an area working tirelessly to shed its reputation of being boring or run-down.
Evan Monroe Faulkner, a sometime comedian and full-time film junkie, is at the heart of the film series uprising. He used to emcee the Warnors Theatre’s Classic Film Series, which drew thousands of attendees to downtown Fresno for monthly screenings over the last four years. When that series fell by the wayside as the Warnors transferred management, he created the Downtown Classic Movies series at Bitwise South Stadium and the Savage Cinema Club at Full Circle Brewing Co.
Both are quite small – the Bitwise screening of “Roman Holiday” in February was probably the largest at around 50 people, Faulkner said. But he’s working on getting the word out.
The Warnors series, by the way, may not be dead. After remaining quiet on its fate after a successful December showing, the new management team told The Bee on Tuesday that it plans to revive the classic film series – hopefully in time for summer.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows Faulkner (Full disclosure: We once drank beers and watched “Zombeavers” together at a friend’s birthday bash in a downtown apartment) that he used a movie title to sum up his reasons for starting both events, which are free and run every month.
“I’m doing it for the love of the game,” Faulkner said. “For Love of the Game” stars Kevin Costner as an aging baseball player trying to pitch a perfect game.
His two series are quite different. The Bitwise event is a traditional screening of generally loved classic films, while Savage Cinema Club centers around Faulkner and others roasting cheesy B movies while drinking beer with the audience. Faulkner will show “Alien” at Bitwise on May 17 – two days before its latest sequel, “Alien Covenant,” hits theaters. He plans to tear into “Lone Wolf McQuade,” which stars Chuck Norris as – shock – a Texas Ranger, at Full Circle on May 24.
Faulkner is joined at Full Circle by two other monthly film series: The Central Valley Horror Club and Nate Butler’s Silent Movies. Both have existed in one way or another for a while but recently started up once more at the downtown Fresno brewery. The horror club will show “Man’s Best Friend” on May 19, while Butler will provide piano accompaniment for “The Lodger” on May 17.
Full Circle, by the way, wants you. It wants you so bad. The new owners understand their primary challenge – bringing people to a taproom on a darkened Chinatown block with no semblance of civilization in walking distance. As such, the bar hosts an event pretty much every night – from car shows to roller derbies. In fact, even though it may host three scary-ish film screenings this month, the creepiest thing happening at Full Circle will likely be Puddle of Mudd performing on May 20. I shivered just writing that.
Faulkner is a bit of a film purist. He’s hoping to turn as many people on to great films and auteurs. In a world dominated by cell phones and streaming services, people aren’t watching the great masterpieces anymore – or if they are, they’re not being experienced as intended: in a room with friends and strangers.
“I’m in my 30s, and a lot of people who are maybe 10 years younger have never seen ‘Alien’ or ‘The Godfather,’ ” he said. “They’ve only seen spoofs. It’s like jazz. I didn’t think I was into jazz until someone turned me on to specific artists. There will be more classic movie buffs if people are turned on to the right stuff.”
Faulkner could have moved his show north. Some of the legacy film series – Fresno Filmworks at The Tower Theater and its partner, CineCulture at Fresno State, for example – have secured regular sponsors and screened quality films for years. FresYes, the real estate company with a blogging fetish, plans to follow up its massively successful children’s movie screening in northwest Fresno last year with another on June 24.
But he didn’t. Faulkner is part of the movement trying to push people back into downtown Fresno – a once-neglected area now trying to help the entire city with its “nothing-to-do” identity crisis. Downtown’s sports teams, breweries and Art Hop are setting the pace, but ordinary residents and businesses are also hosting gatherings and creating trends.
Downtown cynics – of which I am one – may not be completely sold on the events push, but everyone will surely agree that having a lot of options for things to do on a Wednesday in Fresno is better than having a few.