Cinema at the Cellars takes over Sapolil Tuesdays

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WALLA WALLA - Two men stand ready for a hillside duel, a shot is fired and a widow walks through her garden as the opening scenes roll on the 1975 critically panned Stanley Kubrick film "Barry Lyndon" during a blustery Tuesday at Sapolil Cellars.

Within moments of the starting credits, a server wends through the darkened tasting room at 15 E. Main St. to offer drinks to a group stationed at a pew in front of the 20-by-10-foot screen.

"I'll have ‘The Duel,'" says Matt Bobbitt, patron and one of the people behind the tasting room's weekly movie nights.

The specialty drink is a layered shot - pun intended - of Kahlua and Baileys Irish Cream. The latter being particularly appropriate given the film's setting.

For neither movie buffs nor fanciers of food and drink is a detail spared for "Cinema at the Cellars."

Introduced two months ago, the free weekly flicks are brought to Main Street through a partnership between Sapolil Cellars and Walla Walla video production company Tangent Media Group.

It is a smorgasbord of films: newer movies, classics, foreign films, cult favorites, holiday heart-warmers - all specifically chosen with purpose.

It is essentially free entertainment in the most intimate of settings with free popcorn, a menu of quintessential movie food like hot dogs and nachos, fare from the tasting room's traditional menu and specialty drinks either created or renamed for the special feature.

During "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" it was "The Drink With No Name." For last week's viewing of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" it was Cosmopolitans. During the viewing of "Citizen Kane," the drink special was "The Rosebud."

Those who haven't yet had a chance to drop by need not worry about running out of time. The films are set up for at least 42 more weeks.

Just two months into the cinematic journey, the movie attractions are the ultimate indulgence for the Tangent team. "We get to pick all the movies we would geek out to," Bobbitt said.

At the same time, they're providing a new and different form of entertainment that's also boosting sales for Sapolil. Owner Abigail Schwerin estimates business has grown about 30 percent on Tuesdays.

"It became apparent when we got this space that we needed to do some other events besides wine tasting," she said of the vast tasting room. Many nights, it's a destination for music. Movies seemed like a natural extension when Schwerin was approached with the idea by Sapolil bartender Nick Spencer.

Not himself a movie aficionado, he reached out to friend Brian Gurnett at Tangent Media Group for help. Sapolil bought the high-definition video projector and funded the massive screen that drops down from the ceiling near its balcony. The Tangent team works with a third-party company that sells one-time licenses for movie showings. As part of the package, the team is also given access to the movie's soundtrack, which usually plays before the viewing.

Just before the 7 p.m. shows, a suit-clad Gurnett reveals a few little known facts about each movie. In the case of "Barry Lyndon," the task was none too difficult. Widely ignored, the story of an Irish rogue who woos a rich widow and takes over her dead husband's aristocratic position is one of the more obscure films of Kubrick, known more for "Dr. Strangelove," "A Clockwork Orange," "The Shining" and "Full Metal Jacket," to name a few.

But its cinematography and lighting techniques will go down in history among filmmakers. Interior scenes for the 18th-century period piece were shot with a specially adapted f/0.7 Zeiss camera lens, which had originally been developed for NASA, Gurnett explained to a crowd of at least 20 people. Many of the scenes were lit with candlelight. The end result became images that resemble 18th-century paintings.

For Spencer, such details make the event even more worthwhile. "It's like Film Appreciation 101 to me while I'm back there mixing drinks," he said casting a glance toward the bar at the business's entryway.

Much time has been spent developing the lineup of movies for the weekly events.

In fact, you could say the list has been in the works for more than a decade, as Gurnett, Bobbitt and fellow Tangent co-owner Kurt DeWitt have each explored their passion for films.

"Ever since I started trying to make movies I've been completely obsessed with them," Gurnett said.

His early rsum includes employment at the local movie theater, Blockbuster and Hastings. While at Blockbuster, he had a personal goal to watch every video available at the now defunct Isaacs Avenue business.

"There was an entire month when I would take home three or four movies a day," he said. "I was systematically out to do the whole store."

He figures he made it about a quarter of the way through the drama genre and about halfway through horror.

To say thought has gone into the Cinema at the Cellars lineup would be an understatement. There have been long debates, consideration for what order movies should be shown and even times of year. "It's more than just a typical movie experience," Gurnett explained. "We want people to understand what they're going to see."

Up next Tuesday is "The Big Lebowski," a film sure to pack the room. The evening's drink: A white Russian, of course.

Valentine's Day will feature "Sleepless in Seattle" and a special visit from Walla Walla resident Jeffrey Townsend, who worked on the movie.

An entire month this summer will be dedicated expressly to '80s films. "Our hope is to pack the house every night," Gurnett said.

"As far as things to do on a Tuesday, you can't really beat it."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.
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