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Sewickley's Shining New Cinema

The Tull Family Theater brings a different kind of moviegoing experience to the region.

photo by sean collier

The Tull Family Theater is almost too nice.

I grew up in mall multiplexes. That meant the ghosts of a billion popcorn kernels permanently hovering in the air. Inexplicable asymmetric patterns in neon shades on dingy carpets. Arcade games with burned-out screens blinking and beeping in an omnipresent digital wail.

As a point of contrast: In the bathrooms at the Tull Family Theater, there are live orchids.

Things have changed. But, while a piece of my heart will always pine for the low-rent cinema of yesteryear, I must say: This place is pretty great.

A nonprofit, two-screen theater in the heart of Sewickley’s business district, the Tull Family Theater opened earlier this year and is still in the process of debuting regular programming and features. It is a community center and event space, of course — a nonprofit cinema never is just a cinema — but the life of the theater revolves around a full, regular schedule of first- and second-run movies.

They’re the sort of films that play in Pittsburgh, but appeared nowhere near Sewickley until now; moviegoers in nearby Beaver County just had their journey to find quality films cut in half. In its opening weeks, the theater showed the likes of “La La Land,” “Fences,” “20th Century Women” and “Lion.” Quality seems to come first, although family is a close second; “Beauty and the Beast” opens in Sewickley this week.

For my exploratory visit, I decided to forego the current selections and attend the first installment of the theater’s Family Fun series. That meant attending a screening of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first film in the franchise; having adopted that particular fandom late in life, I had never seen the original adventure on a big screen. (The Tull Family Theater will continue working its way through the “Potter” films, showing one every second and fourth Saturday afternoon.)

I saddled up to the concession stand to find no-nonsense, classic theater offerings: popcorn, soda and candy. Prices were a bit lower than I’ve come to expect, and the popcorn was quite good. (Too few people acknowledge the variable quality of popcorn. All kernels are not created equal. This, however, is good popcorn.) Some more variety in the offerings here would be welcome and is hopefully forthcoming — we do, after all, live in an age where I can reasonably expect craft beer and something like a full meal at the movies — but they’re off to a good start.

And the theater ... the theater is just so damn nice. I once watched “Sorcerer’s Stone” at home, on a fine enough television, and thought it looked a bit drab; on the state-of-the-art equipment at the Tull Family Theater, it left off the screen like a much newer film. (Yes, the first “Harry Potter” movie is now 16 years old. Adjust how aged you feel accordingly.) The sound was tremendous as well.

This is a very nice theater. It is a theater in a mode that had not previously existed in the area. When I want to flash back to my youth, I can visit Penn Hills Cinemas. When I want to feel cool, I can go to Row House. When I want to feel fancy, I can go to the Manor.

But when I want to feel vaguely pampered by a cinema — a tough thing to expect — I’ll drive to Sewickley.


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