Austin Film Festival 2011
Austin Film Festival offers a wide range of theaters for its 2011 screenings, from south of the river to the Hwy 183/360 area. Some are an easy walk from the Driskill (conference HQ), like the Paramount, Hideout, ACC and Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz; a couple might be considered walking distance if you are fond of hiking, like the Texas Spirit Theater and the Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center; and some absolutely necessitate finding a car or sharing a taxi, like the Arbor.
A few notes about AFF programming at various venues:
- The Paramount is the biggest theater of the bunch, with seating for nearly 1200 people, and you'll find red carpets and the occasional surprise celebrity at the marquee screenings held there.
- Alamo Ritz, used during the first part of the fest, is one of the smaller and yet more popular venues -- it's often difficult to get into movies even with a conference badge, much less a film pass. Arrive early.
- AFF's many and varied shorts programs screen at The Hideout, which also can brew you a mighty fine cup of coffee.
NOTE: This venue is currently closed and undergoing a serious remodeling.
Located in a strip mall, you might never know Alamo Drafthouse at South Lamar is a full-service restaurant that can handle as many as 800 covers per hour, as well as a first-run theater and special event mini-cineplex. Alamo South Lamar is a popular location for many local film festivals and is the home theater for Fantastic Fest.
Pros: Pre-show clips, food, and beer. Little lights under the tables in front of your seat not only make menu reading easier, but are also helpful if you're taking notes on the film (or want to look at your bill). The theater has a serious "no talking/texting" policy during screenings, so don't be surprised if a manager gives you a warning if you text or get chatty after the house lights go down.
Cons: Avoid the first two rows in the theaters unless you like craning your neck. When it gets busy here, the lobby gets super crowded and verges on the chaotic, although Alamo staff (and volunteers, during fests) have managed to instill very good line control. Popular first-run movies often sell out quickly, especially on summer weekends.
Screens and Capacity: Six theaters with stadium seating, varying in size from 82 seats to 218, all with Sony 4K digital but still capable of showing 35mm films (196 seats in #1, 218 in #2, 118 in #3 & #6, 82 in #4 & #5). During festivals you may be able to order drinks and snacks at the bar by the ticket counter, and enjoy a bite or a brew out at the picnic tables under the awning.
Mobility Impaired Access: Every theater has three floor-level rows, with spaces in the third row specifically for those needing chair access, and the view in that third row is fine. All other amenities are on the ground-floor level so the only problem chair users might have is dealing with crowds (and on weekend nights and during fests, it can get crowded).
Parking: Parking has become a major issue at this location both in front and back, as it's a small strip mall with several other businesses, and The Highball is also a big draw. Be aware of reserved parking and if you must park on the street near the theater, be respectful of the neighborhood.
Bus routes: #3, #338 go to and from the venue. The #484 Night Owl will take you from downtown to the theater but it's only late night and only goes southbound on Lamar. An alternate route is the #30, which requires walking to/from Barton Springs Rd. The #3 can drop you off near the Ritz (the route is on long-term detour and on Congress), and in front of the Paramount. The #338 (which requires a walk from Congress) will take you directly to Westgate theater. For more information, visit the Capital Metro website (hint: click the Service Nearby link then selecting Submit).
Distance: You can't walk to downtown movie theaters (or bars) unless you're into serious hiking, but you can take a bus or find a friendly Austinite with a car. A cab from the theater to downtown isn't expensive, but taxis are unlikely to hang around, so be prepared to phone. Make sure the cab service has your name so they won't drive off with some other film geek.
On-site dining options: All Alamo Drafthouses in Austin have a full menu including wine and beer (Ritz is the only one at this time serving hard liquor). You can view the regular menu and current specials on the South Lamar menu, which also includes helpful hints on the ordering process, and information on gluten-free and vegetarian items. If you need more information than what's included on the menu, ask the waitstaff to check for you.
Nearby dining options: The Highball, Suzi's Chinese Kitchen and Casa Garcia are in the same strip mall, and the super-trendy (and pricey) Japanese restaurant Uchi is across the street and down about a block. Sadly, the food trailers across the theater on South Lamar have moved. Other outstanding options are along South Lamar (away from downtown), as well as "restaurant row" on Barton Springs Rd. For all-night options, Jette likes Kerbey Lane's gingerbread pancakes.
Wireless: Free wireless is available in the lobby and theaters, and out by the picnic tables you'll find outlets as well. The Highball also has wireless and a couple of the booths have outlets. About two blocks further south down Lamar (away from downtown), you'll find a Starbucks in a strip mall across the street from Saxon Pub. Further than a walk, drive north to Barton Springs Road, then turn right to Flipnotics or Austin Java, which both offer coffee and wireless access.
Austin Film Festival's two theaters at Austin Convention Center (ACC) are a temporary setup. They are not in the same location as the ACC theater that is set up during SXSW. One theater is located in Meeting Room 18, the other in Ballroom E. We don't know the seating capacity at this time, but they usually seat from 175-300 people.
Pros: The theaters are large, so they're a good bet for passholders and people who want to buy tickets. The theaters almost never sell out, and the seats are pretty comfy. The location is excellent -- a short walk from the heart of downtown, with plenty of bars and restaurants nearby.
Cons: Since it's a temporary setup, sometimes the picture and sound quality are not ideal. Also, get to ACC early your first time if you don't know how to find the room -- it's a big venue.
Parking: Pay to park in the garage next to the convention center, which is usually more economical than other parking garages in the area. In fact, the ACC garage may be an affordable option for keeping your car downtown all day during the conference.
Distance: You can walk to the Paramount and Alamo Ritz, and to the conference venues. Texas Spirit Theater is a little far for a walk; Rollins Theatre at the Long Center is manageable if you're not in a hurry.
Food and Beverages: Skip the convention center itself unless you're seriously dying of hunger or in need of coffee. Outside, you'll find some good, affordable spots like Iron Works, PF Chang's, and Mongolian BBQ. Cedar Door is a nice place for a Mexican martini. These places can be swamped at lunchtime, so you might want to walk a few blocks more and explore Austin's many downtown lunch options.
Wireless: Probably unavailable. You may need to find a nearby coffeehouse or restaurant.
The Debra and Kevin Rollins Studio Theatre is part of the Long Center for the Performing Arts complex, and occasionally is used as a venue for special screenings and film festivals. The theater can be configured to seat from 80 to 229 people. You enter the theater from a side door right near the Long Center box office.
For film festivals, chairs are placed on risers, much like the ACC theater configuration at SXSW. The seats are fairly comfortable and have pretty good legroom. The screen is a little small, but picture and sound quality are usually good.
Pros: Close to other downtown venues and restaurants, but at enough of a distance that this venue usually has space for passholders and even ticketholders.
Cons: There are often no concessions, so if you're walking from a free parking lot or from downtown on a warm day, bring a water bottle. The Long Center parking garage is expensive for movie parking. If other events are going on at Long Center or Auditorium Shores, your free parking possibilities dwindle considerably.
Screens and Capacity: The theater usually seats about 200 people for film festivals.
Parking: You can pay to park in the Long Center garage, but alternative parking nearby isn't usually hard to find on evenings and weekends. After business hours and on weekends, the surface lot at One Texas Center (505 Barton Springs) has free parking, which is a short walk from Rollins. If you prefer a walk across the park part of the complex, there's a small free parking lot by Dougherty Arts Center (Barton Springs and Dawson), but it fills up quickly.
Bus routes: #5, 10, 30 and others. The routes listed go downtown (northbound).
Distance: It's a long but manageable walk to the downtown area, which you might not want to try if you're in a hurry (stopping halfway at 2nd Street for a drink and snack is recommended). If you've got a car, this venue is pretty convenient to downtown nightlife; and if you don't, a cab shouldn't be too pricey. It's not difficult to find a cab downtown to get to Rollins, but getting a cab at Rollins is sometimes challenging.
Food and Beverages: A kiosk in the lobby sometimes offers coffee, bar drinks and a few snacks, but it's not reliably open. However, when it's closed, no one seems to notice if you sneak your own water bottle in there. If you want to stay on this side of the lake, you can have a hearty "home-cooking" meal at Threadgill's, or grab a bite at Sandy's Hamburgers, an old-fashioned burger stand that also offers delicious frozen treats. Or you can cross the river and return to downtown Austin for a wealth of restaurants, cafes and coffeeshops.
[Photo credit: "Long Center 7" by codexterity. Found on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.]
The Hideout is a combination coffeehouse and performance venue. The downstairs theater, located in the back of the coffeehouse, seats up to 90. Even if you aren't seeing a movie here, it's a good place for coffee-and-wireless, although the coffeehouse can get extremely busy at night and during film festivals or other events. The theater is rarely used to show movies except during film festivals.
Pros: Good coffee and other caffeinated beverages, and comfy couches in the coffeehouse area. You can sometimes get a bagel or other snack here for emergency sustenance when other nearby restaurants are closed. The theater has a cozy, intimate feeling.
Cons: The Hideout is not primarily a movie theater and they sometimes have difficulty getting their projection up to speed. The seats are not very comfortable and often a few are broken.
Parking: No Hideout-specific parking. Park on the street or in a nearby lot/garage.
Bus routes: All downtown routes, including 1L, 1M, 5, 6, 7, 9, 20, 30, 101 stop on the same block.
Distance: It's a block away from the Paramount, and also convenient to Alamo Ritz and many downtown hotels and restaurants.
On-side food and beverages: Lots of coffee drinks, frappes, tea, etc. They also have baked goods and snacks, depending on the time of day (the earlier you go, the better the selection).
Nearby dining options: Same as the Paramount.
Wireless: Free wireless right there, yay. And you can relax on a sofa with a tasty beverage while you use your laptop, if it's not too crowded.
The Texas Spirit Theater is part of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. The theater shows Texas-themed documentaries, and occasionally hosts special screenings and film festivals. It is on the second floor of the museum.
Pros: Free garage parking (in the evenings), comfortable seating and a nice intimate theater experience. Also, you may take a certain odd enjoyment in walking through part of the museum after it closes to get to the theater.
Cons: No concessions, and you're not allowed to bring food/drink into the museum. (I don't think anyone polices that after hours, though, if you want to sneak a water bottle in your purse or bag.)
Screens and capacity: The theater seats about 220.
Parking: You can park in the museum's parking garage (18th at Congress) after 6 pm for free. At other times, garage parking is $6 prepaid. Metered street parking is also available nearby.
Bus routes: The nearest bus stop is across the street, but it serves limited service routes -- the problem is that the Capitol is right in the middle of the direct path to downtown. Walk east to San Jacinto and take the #7, or west to Guadalupe for any low-number bus or the 101.
Distance: The theater is fairly close to downtown -- a cheap cab ride or a short ride on the bus can get you to downtown hotels and theaters. It's a pretty long walk, however. You can walk to The University of Texas campus.
Food and Beverages: The museum prohibits food and beverages in the theater. Head to Guadalupe and Lavaca for better luck: Texas Chili Parlor (1409 Lavaca) has a reputation for some of the best margaritas in town (not to mention their chili), and Scholz Garten is a great place to hang out after a screening.
Wireless: Unlikely. Walk over to Guadalupe and find a cafe or restaurant -- you're so close to the UT campus that just about every place has wireless.
[Photo credit: "Texas State History Museum," by J. Stephen Conn. Found on Twitter, used under Creative Commons license.]
Regal Arbor Cinema at Great Hills is usually called the Arbor or Arbor Great Hills. It is part of the national Regal Theatres chain. The six-screen theater focuses on arthouse films and "big indies" like Sideways, Mamma Mia and 500 Days of Summer. For SXSW 2011, it's a "SXSatellite venue," catering to local filmgoers who want to avoid downtown crowds.
Pros: Comfy seats in roomy theaters. The lobby has some nice little gathering areas with tables and chairs. Good programming of indie/arthouse movies.
Cons: Except during film festivals, the Regal ad reel plays before all movies. TV monitors in the lobby play trailers and commercials, but usually aren't too intrusive. This theater has also had some audio problems in the past, such as speakers not working properly.
Screens and Capacity: The Arbor has a total of eight screens with sloped (not stadium), with seating capacity ranging from 150-287. One screen has a digital projector, and all screens have 35mm projectors. The theater used for SXSW will seat 175.
Mobility Impaired Access: No stairs to worry about, and seating space is available in the back of the theater. You could move to the front but you would be very close to the screen.
Parking: Plenty of parking is available in lots at the front and side of the theater.
Bus routes: #3, 383, 392, 982 & 983. The #383 bus goes between Arbor and Alamo Lake Creek, but it's a long and winding route.
Distance: The theater is in the middle of the Arboretum area of shopping, restaurants and hotels. It's a 15-30 minute drive to downtown, depending on traffic.
Food and Beverages: Arbor offers the usual movie-theater concessions. In the adjacent strip mall, you can find La Madeleine, Fire Bowl Cafe, Texadelphia, Elevation Burger and Pok-E-Joe's. Cross the street to the Arbor mall and enjoy Amy's Ice Cream as well as some other chain restaurants.
Wireless: No wireless in the theater, but you can walk around the nearby strip mall to La Madeleine, which offers wireless access.
Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, aka Alamo Ritz, is a renovation of the old Ritz Theater in downtown Austin, built in 1929. The theater has two screens and shows a combination of first-run movies, arthouse films and the interestingly obscure. The Ritz often shows movies in 35mm.
Pros: The location is ideal for downtown-based film festivals. The seats are comfy, and there are really no "bad seats" in the larger theater. If you're in the smaller theater, see if you can score a spot on the couches in the back row.
Cons: We wish both theaters were larger, especially during film fests when all the visitors want to hang out at an Alamo. If you're seeing a film-fest movie in the smaller theater, get there especially early ... it often fills up quickly. When you sit down at an Alamo theater, don't try to put an empty seat between yourself and the people next to you -- the waitstaff will ask you to move so seats can be consolidated if (when) the theater fills up.
Most (non-fest) Alamo Ritz screenings now have reserved seating. I'll leave it to you to decide whether this is a pro or a con.
Screens and Capacity: The smaller theater seats 69 people; the larger one, 172. For film fests, the balconies are usually reserved for filmmakers or VIPs.
Parking: No Alamo Ritz-specific parking; park on the street or find a downtown lot/garage. The Southwest Tower lot at 7th and San Jacinto (a block or so away) offers a $2 refund if you show your Alamo ticket stub on the way out, Sundays through Thursdays. St. David's parking garage is also a good bet. If you're seeing a midnight movie and parking in a garage, make sure it will still be open after the movie ends.
Bus routes: All downtown routes.
Distance: Only three blocks from Congress Ave. You can easily walk to the Paramount, Austin Convention Center, Violet Crown, and many downtown hotels and restaurants. A cab stand is located on the southbound side of Congress and Sixth, a couple of blocks from the Paramount.
On-site food and beverages: Alamo Ritz offers a full menu for lunch and dinner, including an extensive beer menu and full bar. In addition, you can get standard movie-theater fare like popcorn and candy. (Please don't forget to tip if you order anything.) The coffee is exclusively French-press now (no drip).
Nearby dining options: Sixth Street has lots of food and most of it's not so hot. Iron Cactus next door has pretty good Tex-Mex. The Driskill Hotel's 1886 Cafe is fine for lunch, but not speedy. If you have time and want one of the best burgers in Austin, walk a few blocks down Sixth towards I-35 to Casino El Camino. Or walk a little further to Easy Tiger, which has a ground-floor bakery where you can pick up a quick treat (get the pretzel), and a downstairs cafe/patio for tasty sausages and sandwiches. If price is not a primary consideration (or if it's happy hour), splurge on small plates or even a full meal at Parkside, about a block away.
Wireless: The Ritz has wireless in the lobby but the theater walls are so thick that it doesn't penetrate there very well. Sixth Street tends to have bars rather than coffeehouses -- walk to The Hideout on Congress, or try Halcyon on Fourth Street.
[Photo credit: Jette Kernion. All rights reserved (but if you ask and promise to credit, I'll probably let you use it).]
The Paramount is the grande dame of Austin theaters. The downtown theater is primarily a venue for live performances, but shows movies during film festivals, red-carpet premieres, and the theater's annual Summer Classic Movie Series.
During film festivals and gala screenings, lines for the films form outside the theater and wrap in both directions down Congress. The lines often look deceptively long -- just because a line is stretched around the block and halfway down the next street doesn't mean you won't get in.
If you're carrying your own water bottle, stow it in your car/hotel or conceal it in a backpack or purse before you get to the theater entrance. The ushers take pains to ensure that no outside food or drinks enter the theater, although they won't check inside bags and purses.
Pros: It's usually easy to gain admission to most film-festival movies, even if you're not a badgeholder. This is the best venue for celebrity spotting and perhaps a red carpet or two. And let's face it, it's a beautiful theater.
Cons: The seats are narrow and close together, and you may feel a little too friendly with your neighbors. You're not supposed to shoot video in the Paramount at any time -- the ushers keep an eye out for this -- and depending on the event, you may not be allowed to take still photos either.
Best/worst seating: Avoid the box seats. The boxes also may partially block your view if you're sitting far left or right on the lower level. Some short people claim the best view is from the middle of the very last row of the orchestra/mezzanine level. Balcony seats have cramped legroom but offer good visibility if you're short. However, avoid the front row of the balcony; your view will be impeded by a big iron bar.
Screens and capacity: The Paramount is a single-screen theater that seats nearly 1200 people (1199 to be precise). For screenings that draw a smaller crowd, the ushers may try to fit everyone in the lower level and not open the balcony area.
Parking: No Paramount-specific parking. You can park in nearby garages or on the street in metered spots. Parking at St. David's garage (E. 7th) is often reasonably priced if you want to avoid the hassle of finding a spot on the street, although its rates often increase during special events (like the music portion of SXSW, or some weekend nights).
Bus routes: All downtown routes. You can take the #3 to easily get to/from the theater (or nearby at 7th and Colorado) to Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar.
Distance: You can walk to Alamo Ritz or the Hideout, to Austin Convention Center, and many downtown hotels, bars and restaurants. Alamo on South Lamar is too far for a walk; grab a cab or find a ride. A cab stand is located on the southbound side of Congress and Sixth, a couple of blocks from the Paramount.
On-site food and beverages: You can buy bottled water, soft drinks, and beer and wine. Food is limited to popcorn and candy.
Nearby dining options: Roaring Fork in the Stephen F. Austin hotel next door offers weekday happy-hour food specials at the bar, and the Driskill's 1886 Cafe and Bakery has some reasonably priced items before 5 pm like soup and salad, and very filling breakfasts. Wholly Cow, next to the Hideout, has great burgers but can take a little time.
If you're looking for a pre-movie cocktail, try the second floor of the Stephen F. Austin and sit out on the balcony, which is perfect for people-watching.
Pro tip: Our favorite place for grabbing a bite on the run before downtown movies is the excellent Royal Blue Grocery, less than a block down Congress (toward 6th) from the Paramount. We would never admit to or encourage anyone to pick up some non-noisy, non-smelly salad from the deli section and sneak it into a Paramount movie for a meal between movies (and if you do it, don't sneak it back out of your bag until the theater is dark and the ushers are not nearby).