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True/False wants clout, not crowds

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 | 7:37 p.m. CST; updated 9:48 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
George Curtis, left, and Chris McHale, carpenters with Huebert Builders, work inside the main theater of the new Ragtag at 10 Hitt St.

In a few weeks, Ragtag Cinemacafe will dim the lights at its Tenth Street location one final time before the theater re-opens in its new but not quite finished digs at 10 Hitt St. just in time for the 2008 True/False Film Festival.

Ragtag and True/False co-founder David Wilson said a bigger Ragtag won’t immediately usher in a busier era for the documentary film festival, which has been growing steadily since Wilson and fellow Ragtag co-founder Paul Sturtz spearheaded the first event in 2004.

If you go

True/False passes, available at truefalse.org, went on sale Jan. 9 and will be sold through 5 p.m. Feb. 19. Silver Circle passes are sold out, but you can still buy a Simple pass for $55 or a Lux pass for $125. A festival schedule will be online at truefalse.org by Feb. 8.

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“I just got back from Sundance,” Wilson said. “We don’t want to be that festival.”

Wilson said the goal for True/False isn’t to draw staggering attendance; rather, it’s to grow in prestige in order to attract bigger, better films and offer more opportunities to participating directors. Eventually, the expanding attendance rate will be slowed to keep the festival a community affair contained within the downtown area.

“We’ll just sell a set amount of tickets,” Wilson said. “When they’re out, they’re out.”

In 2004, film fans bought 4,400 tickets to True/False. Last year, they bought about 15,000.

Wilson said the new Ragtag location won’t be finished for the festival — it has no marquee and will likely use temporary seating and rented digital equipment — but it should be “open in a functional way” and ready to showcase True/False films.

The festival runs from Feb. 28 through March 2. Wilson said the Ragtag’s big move could fall closer to Feb. 15.

Tuesday afternoon, the new site was almost empty inside, save for scattered collections of construction supplies. Pea-green walls swallowed the mostly naked cafe area, and the skeleton of what will eventually be a bar was nothing but plywood. The main entrance isn’t finished.

But within a few weeks, the public will be able to take a seat in the theater — even though the seats might be stopgaps.

“We’ve always had the goal of it being done by True/False,” Wilson said. “There’ve been times when we’ve thought we might finish early ... it’s a moving target, and we’re just trying to hit it.”

Wilson said he expects the project to meet its $2 million budget, part of which includes an ongoing $600,000 capital campaign to help the Ragtag buy everything from movie screens and projection equipment to new couches and a marquee.

The new location next to First Presbyterian Church will offer Ragtag fans more of everything the site on Tenth Street offered: more cinema, more cafe and more Ragtag. 9th Street Video will relocate under the Ragtag’s new roof sometime after True/False, carrying its full rental collection in tow.

Uprise Bakery, which operates a small concession bar in the current Ragtag that sells modest meals, beer and baked goods, will run a full-scale cafe featuring Uprise’s entire menu.

Uprise owner Ron Rottinghaus said the bakery will move from its Broadway location gradually instead of closing and re-opening. The bakery could be at least partially moved in by the True/False festival, depending on how quickly construction finishes.

“Right now, we’ll take it kind of easy,” Rottinghaus said. “With expanded hours, it will most likely be a stretch for our staff, for now at least.”

The Ragtag will almost triple its seating capacity from 70 seats to about 200 and have two screening rooms. One will seat about 65 and maintain the giant living-room ambience of the original Ragtag. The second, larger room will offer the Ragtag’s twist on a traditional theater setting, seating about 135 with fixed, tiered seats in the back and couches closer to the screen.

The extra screen will also allow the Ragtag to spice up its programming. Before, Wilson said the Ragtag had to choose between injecting fresh, new material into its schedule and keeping favorite films around.

“We’d have the flexibility to keep those great films and bring new ones in at the same time,” Wilson said.

Although 9th Street Video, Uprise Bakery and Ragtag Cinemacafe are uniting in one location, Wilson said all three will remain independent, which is part of the reason Ragtag Cinemacafe won’t be fully operational when it opens in a few weeks.

“Other than a friendship and a good symbiosis, there’s no direct relationship,” Wilson said. He also said the three businesses could be fully moved in by late spring.

Janet Marsh of 9th Street Video said the store will move in after closing its Ninth Street location.

“They’re leaving the work on our portion of the building until last,” Marsh said, “which is the way it should be because they have an important deadline.”


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