The newest silver screen is about to bring gold to the Rochester film scene. Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 silent film The Gold Rush will be at the end of the red carpet celebrating the opening weekend at the Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse, a microcinema with a focus on creating community.
Andy Smith, the owner and director of programming at Gray Duck, first dreamed of a community-based microcinema as a college student when he was walking around Chicago, but he launched his dream in earnest in December 2017. That’s when he wrote a serious business plan out.
Rochester became the site for Smith’s dream after he connected with Bucky Beeman of Realty Growth. Though the property ad that initially brought Smith and his wife Anna, a Twin Cities native, to Rochester didn’t end up being the present location for the Gray Duck, Smith says that Beeman’s introduction to the city’s business owners and arts scene created a “love-at-first-sight” scenario.
The Gray Duck’s launch wouldn’t have been possible without support from the community. “The money raised from our Indiegogo campaign allowed us to do more work on our space than we initially thought we could,” says Smith.
Smith’s passion for movie theaters is clear. He says they “are the purest way to enjoy the most complex art form.” He hopes that the Gray Duck can be a gathering place that brings people together.
“We want people to feel that they belong, that they feel heard, and can engage in honest conversation with the cultivated films we show,” he says. “This is why we are so excited to also be a full-time coffeehouse, so the film experience can naturally lead to pre- or post-show conversation.”
On opening night Friday, the Gray Duck will begin to reveal its unique way of sharing films by presenting Chaplin’s “Gold Rush” with a live music accompaniment created by pianist Christopher Alexander, a Rochesterite who studied music at St. Olaf. The night’s festivities will include a tour of the lobby, coffeehouse, and projection room.
There will also be Gray Duck merchandise giveaways throughout the night with a prize for the best 1920’s-inspired formal wear, a Q&A with Gray Duck team members, and an after-party.
Post-opening, the theater plans to feature films at roughly 7 and 9 p.m. on weekend nights, but will be open as a coffeehouse from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m.-11:30 p.m. on Fridays, 8:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and noon-11:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Gray Duck will serve locally roasted coffee and bakery items from Fiddlehead Coffee. Films will be offered for $8 with a $12 option for the double-header, and “Flying V” members can pay $20 a month to see any regular showing.
In the coming weeks, the Gray Duck is planning to show Time for Ilhan (a documentary about Representative Ilhan Omar by a Minnesota-based filmmaker), The Brink (a film focused on Stephen Bannon’s attempts to unite the far-right), and Shoplifters (a movie by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda that won last year’s Palm d’Or). They plan to launch a classic series this summer exploring the films of Audrey Hepburn and will also feature an improv event with local troupe The Squirrel Association on June 13.
When Smith grew up in L.A., he played a game called “Duck, Duck, Goose,” but now that he’s made Rochester home, he named his theatre the Minnesotan way. “It simply communicates to Minnesotans our commitment to being a uniquely local establishment,” he says. “We aren’t just another cineplex or place to see a movie, but a space dedicated to building an inclusive and loving community around film and coffee here in Rochester, here in Minnesota.”