Reliving movie history

The Great Basin Film Society brings classics to a Reno coffeehouse

The movies are shown at Ark-a’ik Coffeehouse at 555 E. Fourth St. in Reno. For a schedule of upcoming films, check the Great Basin Film Society Web page at

While Star Wars and Spider-man will be raking in the big bucks at the Century Theaters in town, a small group of Truckee Meadows residents is trying to not let people forget about the lesser-known, quirky films.

The Great Basin Film Society, which had its first show in March at Ark-a’ik Coffeehouse, strives to show movies that its members love—the campy, foreign and independent films that many people may have missed. For many of the movies, it will be the first time ever on a screen in Reno.

This past weekend the society sponsored a showing of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The film, based on the book of the same name by Anthony Burgess, is one of the more critically acclaimed movies of the past 30 years, focusing on Alex and his gang of ruffians as they pillage their way through life.

But it’s not the type of movie one might find on a Saturday-afternoon broadcast channel, or even most pay channels. And it hasn’t seen a big screen in Reno since its release in 1971. The brutal depiction of a slightly futuristic England is just the type of movie that the film society wants people to get another chance—or first chance—to see.

The selection isn’t limited to dark, foreboding movies, however.

“All of us love so many different types of movies,” says society volunteer Teree Barnes. “We cater to people with a serious interest in foreign, cult and independent films.”

The first movie shown in March was 5 Against the House (1955), which was filmed in Reno and tells the story of a poor college student’s plan to rob a casino.

The society has followed that up with such movies as Mystery Train and A Clockwork Orange. Coming in two weeks will be The Bicycle Thief, a 1949 Italian movie about an impoverished man’s struggle to retain his dignity and feed his family. Next will be a screening of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, the 1985 movie starring Pee Wee Herman and revolving around his quest to get back his stolen bike.

“I think we are all really into the extreme movies,” Barnes says. “Extreme foreign films, extremely kooky films like Pee Wee, and extreme acid movies.”

The Great Basin Film Society rose from the ashes of the old Keystone Theater in the Reno Hilton. Many society members used to work for the Keystone, and when it went out of business, a void was left for film lovers. Although the Keystone has since reopened inside of Century Riverside, it shows only newly released art, indie and foreign films, not the older films that society members still appreciate.

Fellow movie-lover Steve Peto, owner of Ark-a’ik, offered a space in his coffeehouse for the films to be shown. Steve Savage, who started the film society, found an old screen and a 16-millimeter projector. While many of the movies are available on VHS, Barnes said that they were more interested in the rolls of film.

“The sound is different on a 16-millimeter, and you have to change the rolls,” she says, almost reverently.

Savage, a self-described life-long film lover, says that Reno needed an alternative for people who loved movies but who didn’t want to go to the chain theaters every time.

“It just seems like Reno is big enough now that it could support it," Savage says. "You go to other places like Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area and Sacramento, and they all have an alternative to the multiplex."