Q&A with Rene Brunet and Jack Stewart, Authors of “There’s One in Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans”

Posted on November 26, 2012 in Enews, News
Q&A with Rene Brunet and Jack Stewart, Authors of “There’s One in Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans”

Rene Brunet and Jack Stewart will discuss their new book, There’s One in Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans, at our last Coffee and Conversation session of the year at 7 p.m., Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at the Jefferson Parish Library.

Prytania Theater owner Rene Brunet, at age 91, has teamed up with urbanologist Jack Stewart and New Orleans book publisher Arthur Hardy to produce this beautiful book that chronicles more than 100 lost movie theaters in metro New Orleans.  These entertainment venues were more than places where motion pictures were projected onto giant screens – they were community centers where people gathered and where memories were made.  Through their painstaking research that took 17 years, our authors give us a breathtaking view of this expansive and unique history. Thanks to them, the memories of these movie theaters will live on.

We sat down with authors Rene Brunet and Jack Stewart for a pre-Coffee and Conversation Q&A.

What was the most surprising anecdote or artifact you discovered in the process of writing this book?
When United Theaters took over operation of the Famous Theater, one of the opening attractions was an act including lions!

Your book covers decades of New Orleans history and over 100 neighborhood theaters. Not only has the process of film-making and film-viewing gone through major transformations in that time, but also the process of documenting and record-keeping. How did you uncover these theaters of the past?
We started off by compiling a huge list of all the theaters that ever operated in New Orleans, then cut that down to a much smaller list of neighborhood theaters that made it into the sound era.  During the 17-year period that we worked on the book, we got information from just about every archive in the metropolitan area, including  books, microfilms, property records, vertical files, and oral  histories. One helpful, but often quirky, tool was the recently-available online newspaper indexes.  The most difficult obstacle was finding accurate opening and closing dates, with the oldest theater dating back to 1903.

So, what is it about movies? What about the medium of film is so lovable, so intoxicating?
Film offers the creation of an alternate reality in a more thorough way than any other medium.

Do you think it matters whether we watch something in a theater with hundreds of other people or by ourselves, in our pajamas, on a laptop computer?
Yes it matters. Watching a good film with hundreds of other people, especially when all or most of the people in the audience fully understand and react to what is going on in the film, is truly one of life’s most enjoyable shared moments.  What is gained through technological innovation is convenience, but what is lost is the potential of a very gratifying social experience.