Hidden gems: independent cinemas in the Chilean capital

Tucked away among the high-rise towers and shopping malls of this modern
metropolis, independent cinemas offer an escape from the frenetic pace
of Santiago.

There is no shortage of places to catch a movie in Chile’s capital, a city where movie theaters abound, but for those who are after something other than the most recent Hollywood sequel, options may appear few and far between. Luckily, however, hidden away among the modern streets of Santiago is a string of independent cinemas that offer both a wide range of movies and a respite from the bustle of the country’s biggest and most hectic of cities.

Cine Arte Normandie – Tarapacá 1181, Barrio Arturo Prat-San Diego, Santiago Centro.

The jewel in the crown of Santiago’s indie cinema scene is undoubtedly Cine Arte Normandie. Tucked away behind the Central House of the Universidad de Chile, just a short walk from the city’s historic center, the cinema stands as a testament to the Santiago of 20 years ago. Both the ticket and popcorn vendors look like they’ve been manning their posts since film was first invented, and the 500 or so seats that make up the huge auditorium are veritable antiques compared to those in mainstream cinemas.

The Normandie screens a wide range of films from around the world, ranging from obscure art house movies that you’ve probably never heard of to film classics that you probably should have seen. It is also a great place to catch old local productions which the Normandie continues to screen long after other theaters have moved on. It is still screening the two biggest Chilean movies of 2011, Violeta Se Fue A Los Cielos (“Violeta Has Gone to Heaven”) and Nostalgia Por La Luz (“Nostalgia For the Light”).

There are four daily screenings at the Normandie. The first is screened at 3:00 in the afternoon and the last film of the day at 9:00 p.m. At CLP3,000 (US$5.75) for a full-price ticket, prices are reasonable and the cinema also offers discounts to members, students and the elderly. Some films are shown with English subtitles.

El Biógrafo – José Victorino Lastarria 181, Santiago Centro.

A great option for those whose Spanish is not quite up to the quickfire dialogue of Chilean movies is El Biógrafo. Built in art-deco style in the early eighties, this cozy little one-room cinema is a favorite among the bohemian community that frequent the bars, cafés, bookstores and galleries of José Victorino Lastarria, known by locals as “barrio Lastarria.”

First used as an art and rehearsal gallery, El Biógrafo was bought by Transeuropa Chile Limitada in the late 80s. The cinema screens only independent films, primarily from North America and Europe. The movies range from those of the big name directors of independent cinema world, like Woody Allen and Wes Anderson, to obscure arthouse films you’re only likely to catch again on late-night foreign broadcasts.

Screenings always begin at 3:30 p.m. Currently the matinee is L’Illusionniste (“The Illusionist”), an animated dramatic comedy co-produced in Britain and France in 2010. From there, times vary slightly depending on the movies being shown. At the moment, La Quise Tanto (“I Loved You So Much”), a French drama, is being shown at 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m, with another screening of L’Illusionniste between the two at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets cost CLP3,000 (US$5.75), and discounts are offered Monday through Wednesday.

Centro Arte Alameda – Av. Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins 139, Santiago.

If the Normandie and El Biógrafo make you feel just a little too warm and fuzzy inside, then the Alamada art center might be more your style. Located on the capital’s main thoroughfare, the center’s café, gallery and performance spaces cater to a trendy young crowd, and the cinema is no exception.

As well as independent films and cult classics, the center’s two screening rooms show art and music documentaries. It’s a great place to spend the evening, a place where you can follow up a movie with a pisco sour and live show.

Screenings times vary, but movies generally start anywhere between 2:30 pm and 9:30 pm.

Currently showing are La Comiqueria (“The Comic Store”) an animated film described as the Chilean “American Splendour;” “Pink Floyd – Behind the Wall,” a documentary on the classic rock album; El Mocito (“The Young Butler”), a documentary about a man who was a heavily involved in the crimes of the military dictatorship as a youth; and Misterios de Lisboa (“Mysteries of Lisborn”) an acclaimed historical drama by Chilean director Raul Ruizl, released in 2010.

Entrance to the center is CLP3,000 (US$5.75), with discounts to students and on Wednesday. The cinema costs as additional CLP1,500 (US$2.85).