Destination Film: Michigan's Historic Howell Theater

Next up for movie destinations: Michigan's Historic Howell Theater.

The recent limited theatrical release of Ben Wheatley's High-Rise led yours truly to yet another film destination where I had to go an extra mile or two to see this clandestine under-the-radar picture, this time around to a theater with a long standing history in my very own state of Michigan: the Historic Howell Theater.  Located in downtown Howell, Michigan, the once dormant movie house recently reopened in late 2014 after being closed in July of the year prior and has since been renovated from the floor up.  Originally built by the Locey family before opening in 1927 as a movie theater and live theater venue, the local small town movie theater shifted owners over the years, renovated by the Schulte Amusement Company in 1938 and operated until 1970 before being reacquired by the Wisper and Wetsman Company until 1998 when it's doors closed once more.  It wasn't until the theater was purchased by the City of Howell in 1999 that the theater was stored from top to bottom after being purchased by a real estate appraiser by the name of Carol Chandler.  After being closed down two more times in November 2009 and again on August 2013, it reopened seemingly for good now under new ownership and management by Tyler DePerro in September 2014 and now sports new digital projection systems, upgraded surround sound and brand new theater screens.  

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Walking into this quaint little venue, I was awestruck by how much movie memorabilia awaited inside.  From the glass box shelf of 35mm movie trailers, short films and cameras, the lobby with film projectors line up across the ledge, movie posters all inside the restrooms and painted movie quotes on the walls leading to each auditorium, this proved to be a charming movie house that is also, like the Cinema Detroit, home to many art-house screenings not booked in most movie theaters as well as a showcase for classic revival screenings often held for free!  The theater owner himself recently participated in a local documentary called My Mitten Series where he talks about the theater restoration and how the venue caters to local Michigan cinephiles.  Much like the Main Art, the Historic Howell Theater is also dedicated to local Michigan filmmakers as well as local film festivals sponsoring Michigan filmmaking and distribution.  In the wake of oversized multiplexes, it's refreshing to step inside a smaller mom and pop local venue dedicated to preserving the cinematic experience for films facing difficult distribution platforms.  Also new to the theater is what the owner himself refers to as a 'cafe vibe' in the lobby with vibrant colors and a lounge area for those wanting to soak in the atmosphere of the theater.  

Though tiny, it's gratifying to know there's another local theater in the Metro Detroit area which has open doors to clandestine releases looking for a home to screen on outside of the Maple Theater, the Michigan Theater, the Main Art Theater, the Redford Theater and of course the Cinema Detroit.  While the newly renovated theater is still in it's infancy after reopening only two years ago, this is a great little venue which someone went under my radar for years and upon discovery is one I'm eagerly looking forward to returning to.  From the quaint setting, the warm and inviting interior decor and the enthusiastic celebration of movies with all the memorabilia inside, I strongly recommend checking them out the next time you're looking for a movie no one else in town is playing but them and if you want a change of scene from the multiplex arena of movie watching.  Despite being an hour away, I'll be heading down there again for their revival screening of Night of the Living Dead very soon now and am eager to try out their free movie screenings as well.  Who knows, maybe one day you'll get to play your very own home made movie there too?

-Andrew Kotwicki