Austin Way : Richard Linklater’s Highly Anticipated AFS Cinema Opens

It’s the arthouse Linklater built: The director’s longtime vision comes to life with the new, two-screen AFS Cinema.

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“Art cinemas are going away, but we’re confident in our community that this will work.” —Richard Linklater

Think of the new AFS Cinema, which opened Memorial Day weekend, as Austin’s permanent film festival—a venue not only for avant-garde, classic, and other independent films, but a gathering place for this city’s many fervent cinephiles.

The Austin Film Society extensively renovated the former Marchesa Hall & Theatre—the home of the nonprofit’s film series since 2013—into a two-screen, full-time arthouse theater with a cafe, expansive lobby, and private event space. Long the vision of Austin’s Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater, who founded the AFS in 1985, the venue was redesigned by renowned local architect Michael Hsu and his team as well as boutique architecture firm Designtrait. “It’s like our church,” Linklater says during an intimate preview.

Turning the large, cavernous space in a strip mall into a film lover’s dream venue was a challenge. After closing the one-screen Marchesa Hall in November, the design team got to work. “We wanted to incorporate design elements that harken to what we love about the medium, like the glamour,” says Hsu during the preview. The huge lobby becomes more intimate under a marquee-style light fixture. Warm reds and ambers invite people to stay, eat, drink, and peruse the vintage movie posters and album wall of soundtracks, courtesy of Linklater’s collection. “It’s important to have a place to talk about the movie before and after,” says Hsu.

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Assistant manager Nate Leland (from left), chef Peter Klein, and General Manager David Monahan at the AFS Cinema’s new bar. Craft beers, signature cocktails, and select wines accompany Klein’s menu of elevated cinema concessions.

Chef Peter Klein, formerly of Olamaie, runs the cinema’s café and bar. The menu includes grab-and-go items for the theater or to enjoy in the lobby, from Austin’s Smokey Denmark sausages and hot dogs and an Antonelli’s cheese plate to small-batch popcorn, sandwiches, nostalgic candy, and seasonal fresh fruit with a honey crème fraiche. The bar offers Texas beer, select wines, and signature cocktails, and a full espresso bar features Stumptown Coffee.

Inspired by the nonprofit Film Forum in New York, the AFS Cinema offers a full slate of diverse programming—everything from new releases that otherwise wouldn’t have a home in Austin to restorations, repertory series, and documentaries. On the bill this summer, the Essential Cinema series will focus on “Comedy, Italian Style,” and new monthly series will include “Cinema of Resistance,” featuring films about social movements paired with discussions, and “Sunday School,” aimed at introducing great cinematic works to audiences of all ages. In a city home to major film festivals (SXSW, the Austin Film Festival, and Fantastic Fest) and the Alamo Drafthouse and Violet Crown theater chains, the AFS Cinema seems like a natural. Says Linklater: “Art cinemas are going away, but we’re confident in our community that this will work.” 6406 N. Interstate, Suite 3100; 512-322-0145; austinfilm.org

Article originally appeared on Austin Way.