Austin Film Festival 2013

AFF 2013: A Guide to Film Venues

Paramount Theatre

Austin Film Festival has a very diverse range of movie theaters this year -- a few are the fest's standards, like the Paramount (natch) and The Hideout, but one is new to AFF and may in fact be making its film-festival debut.

We've assembled guides to each venue below, including nearby dining options, pros and cons, and proximity to other theater venues. Here are a few general notes, both for locals and out-of-towners at AFF this year.

  • If you live in Austin, this is a great set of venues because if you don't want to fight downtown traffic/parking, you can head over to one of the satellite theaters: Alamo Drafthouse Village and Galaxy Highland. If you're visiting from out of town, those theaters will not be easy for you to reach without your own car or some very kind friends.
  • Most of the conference and festival takes place downtown, and you can easily walk between conference venues (Driskill, Stephen F. Austin, and St. David's) and the Paramount, Stateside and The Hideout. You can walk to/from these theaters and Rollins, but it's about a mile -- if you have time, stop just before/after you cross the bridge and take a break on 2nd Street, perhaps somewhere like Jo's Hot Coffee.

Rollins Studio Theatre, Long Center for the Performing Arts

Address: 
701 West Riverside Drive, Austin TX 78704
Phone: 
(512) 474-5664

Long Center 7 by codexterity on Flickr

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 ... but reasonable for SXSW. 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.

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 Theatre

Address: 
617 Congress Ave., Austin TX 78701
Phone: 
(512) 443-3688

SXSW 2009

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.

Texas Spirit Theater, Bullock Texas State History Museum

Address: 
1800 North Congress, Austin TX 78701

Texas State History Museum, by J. Stephen Conn on Twitter

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.]

IMAX Theatre, Bullock Texas History Museum

Address: 
1800 North Congress, Austin TX 78701
Phone: 
512-936-8746

Texas State History Museum, by J. Stephen Conn on Twitter

The Bob Bullock Texas History Museum hosts the only authentic IMAX theater in Austin. The theater usually shows museum-style documentaries on weekday mornings, then shows first-run movies on evenings and weekends, either in traditional format or in 3-D.

Pros: Free garage parking (in the evenings) and comfortable seating.

Cons: As a festival venue, it's sometimes problematic to watch a conventional indie on the oversize screen. 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: Unknown.

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.]

Galaxy Highland 10 Theatre

Address: 
6700 Middle Fiskville Rd, Austin TX 78752
Phone: 
512-467-6165‎

Idiocracy.  Really.Galaxy Highland is owned by the Galaxy Theatres chain. It is a 10-screen theater near Highland Mall (what's left of it) that shows new releases. Austin Film Festival is using it as a venue in 2013.

Pros: It might not look like it, but this is one of the best theaters in Austin for consistently good projection and audio quality. One or two screens are a little dirty or dingy but the rest are in good shape. Unaccompanied minors are not allowed in the theater on weekend nights.

Cons: It gets very popular and crowded on weekend nights, and those audiences aren't always as quiet as local film geeks would like. We've heard a few reports of people getting their cars broken into, so ensure your valuables are out of sight.

Screens and Capacity: There are 10 theaters of various sizes. All movies are screened in digital projection, and one has a row of D-Box theater seats that move with special effects while you watch the movie.

The theater being used for Austin Film Festival 2013 seats 187.

Parking: Plenty of parking is available around the theater in a large surface lot.

Distance: This theater is not near downtown or any traditional film-festival venues -- you really need to drive to get here, or consult Cap Metro for the best bus routes. (It's nearly a mile to the Highland MetroRail station.)

On-site food and beverages: Standard movie-theater concessions, like candy and soft drinks. The popcorn has real butter on it.

Nearby dining options: The theater shares a parking lot with Shanghai, which has very good dim sum. Taj Palace is in the adjoining strip mall. Go down Airport toward Lamar for good Mediterranean food at Arpeggio Grill. On Airport in the other direction you can find Quality Seafood, Kome (sushi and ramen) and House Pizzeria. And you're not far from Threadgill's and Stiles Switch BBQ on North Lamar. The nearest coffeehouse is Kick Butt Coffee, where you can also have a sandwich or salad at lunchtime.

Pro tip: Bring a sweater or jacket, the theaters can get rather chilly.

[Photo credit: "Idiocracy. Really." by Laura Taylor. Found on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.]

Alamo Drafthouse -- Village

Address: 
2700 W. Anderson Lane, Austin TX 78757
Phone: 
512-476-1320

At the newly renovated Alamo @drafthouse Village to see A Christmas Story

Alamo Drafthouse -- Village, aka Alamo Village, focuses on first-run movies with the occasional arthouse feature or special event. Alamo Village has 4K digital projection for all four screens, but can also show movies in 35mm. This is more of a "neighborhood theater" than the Alamo Drafthouses at Ritz or South Lamar.

Pros: Since it's an Alamo Drafthouse, you don't have to suffer through commercials before your movie. Parking is nearby. Like other Alamo Drafthouses, the theater has a serious "no talking/texting" policy during screenings. It's a good venue for film festivals if you're a local, because it almost never sells out.

Cons: This neighborhood theater gets very popular, especially nights/weekends. Buy your tickets in advance. All (non-fest) seating is reserved, so you can pick your seats online.

Screens and Capacity: Four theaters varying in size, all with Sony 4K digital but still capable of showing 35mm films. Lines for the movies may be inside the lobby or outside depending on the size of the crowds and the weather.

Parking: Alamo Village is part of a small strip mall with a parking lot. The lot gets crowded on nights and weekends (we used to tell you to drive around to the back, but the Goodnight has taken over that parking now).

Bus routes: The #5 and #19 have stops not far from the theater. You can also take a #3, but you'll have a little walk from Burnet Road.

Distance: Alamo Village is near Anderson Lane and Burnet Road, a good area for dining and shopping. It's at least 8 miles from downtown, so as a film festival venue, you can't get to downtown theaters easily -- it'll take you 15-45 minutes depending on traffic.

On-site dining options: All Alamo Drafthouses in Austin have a full menu including wine and beer. You can view the menu and current specials on the website, which also includes helpful hints on the ordering process, and information on gluten-free and vegetarian items. Don't hesitate to ask the waitstaff if you have special allergies or dietary needs.

Nearby dining options: This part of town has added lots of good dining options in the past few years. The strip mall that houses Village also includes Madam Mam's, a great Thai restaurant, Cover 3, an upscale sports bar with a fancy-ish menu, and Chen Z, where you can get house-made noodles and hot pot. Pho Thaison, in the strip mall adjacent to Village (closer to Burnet), is an inexpensive option for Vietnamese food. During the day, don't forget San Francisco Bakery, catty-corner to the theater, which has wonderful baked goods and a very tasty quiche. (It was also a location in the movie Artois the Goat.) Across the street, the Northcross shopping center offers Tarka, Elevation Burger, Phonatic and more.

And of course you can drive south on Burnet a few blocks and get a really cinematic meal at Top Notch.

Wireless: Free wireless is available in the lobby and theaters. San Francisco Bakery has wireless, and you'll find a Starbucks nearby, too, on Anderson a little closer to Mopac.

[Photo credit: "At the newly renovated Alamo Drafthouse Village" by Mike Prosser. Found on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.]

Paramount Theatre

Address: 
713 Congress Avenue, Austin TX 78701
Phone: 
512-472-5470

Paramount's summer movies begin

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 a water bottle, 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. The legroom in the balconies is terrible. 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 most of SXSW, or some weekend nights).

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/between 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 (and if you do it, don't sneak it out of your bag until the theater is dark and the ushers are not nearby).

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