Little known theaters


Austin Film Society (AFS), located in North Austin, is a nonprofit cinema started by Austin based director Richard Linklator. The cinema screens a variety of modern and classic films. photo by Helena Lara

Max Domel, Staff Writer

Besides the larger and more well-known movie theater chains populated throughout the city of Austin like the Alamo Drafthouse, iPic and Regal Cinemas, there exists another world lane of smaller, independent theaters that charm visitors with their attention to detail and individuality.

The Austin Film Society (AFS) is a nonprofit cinema located in the Linc, a shopping mall in North Austin. It was co-founded in 1985 by Richard Linklater, a University of Texas graduate and the director behind many famous movies most notably including “Boyhood” in 2014 and “Dazed and Confused” in 1993. AFS board members include but are limited to Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Mike Judge and Quentin Tarantino.

In 2000, the AFS team built a studio complex near the old Mueller airport filled with five stages, multiple recording rooms and two office buildings available to be rented by aspiring local filmmakers. AFS also has intern programs and educational seminars for those who want to learn about filmmaking and its culture. The theater also hosts the annual Texas Film Awards.

One thing that sets apart AFS from other theaters is its wide variety of screenings with films from many time periods, countries and production backgrounds. AFS still shows mainstream and blockbuster movies, yet it takes things to the next level by bringing back restored classics and giving the spotlight to international and independent films made by lesser-known producers that would not normally be shown in chain theaters.


Inside Austin Film Society (AFS), where aspiring filmmakers can make their dreams into reality using the non-profits equipment to support their filmmaking. photo by Helena Lara

Another unsung Austin movie theater is Violet Crown Cinema. Although it has two other locations in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, the cinema was founded in Austin in 2011 by Bill Banowsky. The name comes from an old nickname for the Texas capital, “the city of the violet crown,” penned by American short-story writer William Sydney Porter.

Located in downtown Austin near the Warehouse District, the theater provides a fresh, urban atmosphere. The main entrance on West Second St. would be nearly hidden between the tight, adjacent buildings if not for its neon signs, a display composed of both purple and white. Inside the building there are four auditoriums, each with only 50 seats, truly making it what’s known as a “boutique cinema.”

Similar to the Austin Film Society, Violet Crown is known to screen movies from all parts of the world, and anything from indie films to unique documentaries to stop-motion productions. Violet Crown is also known for its luxury features, such as its soft, cushioned theater seats and fancy main lobby equipped with a decorative dining area and snack bar with popcorn, candies and entrees.

In addition to being an underrated and obscure Austin theater, the outdoor Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In is a rare prospect that manages to combine the peak nostalgia of drive-in movie theaters from the ‘50s and ‘60s with the modern day lifestyle and urban surroundings.

By only allowing 30 to 50 cars per night, Blue Starlite owner Josh Frank delivers an intimate and one-of-a-kind experience to his visitors that they cannot find anywhere else. After switching locations five different times since its 2010 opening, involving a four-year spell at the Austin Film Society’s studios, the drive-in finally found its favorite spot in South Austin in spring 2018 on the slight outskirts of downtown, allowing nightly visitors to view tall, vibrant buildings while watching films.

The film selection offered at Blue Starlite is another reason to place it in its own category above other theaters. The most common films shown are drive-in classics and cult movies from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. And to add on to the trip down memory lane, customers can purchase vintage versions of sodas and watch old TV commercials from the late 20th century instead of trailers before the main act. The lot is also furnished with a fire pit for roasting marshmallows at any point in time during the movie.

For the students who love watching classic, indie and international films or for those searching for a different, elevated movie experience, check out these movie theaters when you look for entertainment next because their small sizes do not reflect their big hearts and beloved uniqueness.