Interview: Bill Arrowood of South Street Cinema

The newly opened South Street Cinema is a pop-up movie house right in the heart of the South Street Headhouse District, and is currently offering a diverse roster of programs four nights a week. From retro favorites to bizarre, underground cinema, the recently repurposed space has a little something for everybody. Cinedelphia had the opportunity to speak with Bill Arrowood, Assistant Director of the SSHD, and the brains behind Philly’s newest haven for film exhibition.

Cinedelphia: Can you talk a little bit about why and how South Street Cinema began?

Bill Arrowood: It is the primary mission of the SSHD to enliven and being new businesses, people, and entertainment to the South Street area. Given that is my principle job, coming up with new ideas to do that is part of what I do. My personal connection to this project is that my formative years were spent as a projectionist at my hometown theater down in Maryland. So I’ve been in the movie business since I was 16. After college I spent 15 years as a location scout and manager in the film business. So I’ve always been sorta nearby it, but have gotten out of the showman side of it. So in exploring ideas to make South Street more interesting and more lively, we looked around the city to see what we could bring here with entertainment value — to bring more people to the street.

C: And you thought “movie theater?”

BA: Keeping in the spirit of South Street being sort of quirky and unusual as a place, an idea of a cinema was an easy thing to come up with. It also allows for a diverse amount of entertainment. We’re not a restaurant or a store. We are literally providing a place for movies. I have the good fortune to work with my friends at the erstwhile Society Hill Playhouse, which was a theater over on 8th Street. Liberty City Radio Theater is an old-time radio show that I wrote and produced there. Once that theater’s run ended I salvaged as much of it as I could. I saved the chairs, the screens, the curtain — all the stuff like that that you could imagine to have here at the space. They’ve graciously loaned it all to us, which is amazing.

C: So what’s the goal with South Street Cinema?

BA: The main thing for us is to make South Street a viable entertainment option. There are always going to be bars (on South Street), there’s always going to be night life, there’s always going to be strange goings on. We want more of a diverse entertainment option. We want some family options, which is why, on Saturday afternoons, we do matinees for kids. It’s stuff like that which we’re really trying to bring about.

C: Tell us about your programming in general. Do you work with any programming partners?

The first partner to sign on with us is the Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival. They do “Oh.. the Horror” Saturday Nights. Mondo Philly, which was a program out of Baltimore, does strange and bizarro B-movies, and just really odd stuff. They just did Turkish Star Wars, which is sufficiently bizarre. It’s bonkers. They had a real good show last night and they’ll be back next month with a film written by and starring James Hong, if you know who that is.

C: Oh yes indeed.

BA: And we’ve had several independent filmmakers say they want to do screenings here. We’d like to do live, local screenings as often as they can provide films. The schedule is building itself now, and I’m keeping it as loose as possible so we can find what’s good for us. Bringing in local talent is something we’d like to start doing more often. There’s a need for a small room to show stuff that’s really on the cusp, and I’m excited about it.

C: Any other programs you’d like to share?

BA: I’m excited about doing our retro movie nights. That’s sort of our mainstream night where we show movies that people will recognize. Those are fun for me as a projectionist because these are the movies I showed when I was working as a projectionist in my high school days. But I also like the idea of getting back to being in a room and hearing people react to a movie. We want to make this every night of the week. We want to make this a gathering place. A place where artists can exhibit their work and see some fun stuff. There will be a lot of old movies that people haven’t thought of seeing in the theater in a while. You’re not going to see as much Casablanca here as you are going to see The Three Stooges.

C: I would do just about anything to see The Three Stooges on a big screen. 

BA: Well, we are on the 300 block of South Street, the birthplace of Larry Fine. Starting in January on Sunday nights we’re going to feature live comedians doing their routine and then we’ll show a film from the guys at Mystery Science Theater who do a program called RiffTrax now, which should be a lot of fun. You can sit at home and watch your TV and your videos and watch all these movies, but sitting with an audience and laughing together is one of the unique things about cinema.

C: I agree. Any new avenue for public exhibition is good for film in general. What you’re offering is very valuable, especially within the growing film scene here in Philly. Before we go, I always ask this question: What’s your favorite movie?

BA: I’ve got a couple of favorite movies for very different reasons, but the one I go back to — the movie I watch when I need to watch a movie — I watch Joe Versus the Volcano. I know it’s a little strange, and it’s an obscure movie, but when you watch it in context, it’s the last of an era. Hollywood made a complete parable. You couldn’t make a movie like that today without it being a farce. It’s very sweet and genuine.

Upcoming screenings:
12/15 – A Christmas Story
12/16 – A Nightmare Before Christmas
12/21 – It’s a Wonderful Life
12/22 – Die Hard

“Oh.. the Horror” Saturday Nights, presented by Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival.
First Thursday B-Movie Bonanza, presented by Mondo Philly every month.

South Street Cinema is located at 327 South Street in the Bright Lights Entertainment District.
Find a full programming schedule online at SouthStreet.com and Facebook/SouthStreetCinema

Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *