On the final day of the Palo Alto International Film Festival, Sunday Sept. 30, two writers from The Paly Voice and I decided to make our way to the Palo Alto Square movie theater on El Camino. Sam Kelly, Callie Walker and I saw the 5 p.m. showing of Butter, a movie we all knew nothing about and approached with no expectations.
This was my first time attending any Palo Alto International Film Festival event, as well as my first time visiting to the Palo Alto Square Theater itself. I have to say, it was actually quite nice. When it came to finding the place it has one of the easiest addresses to look up – 3000 El Camino Real. And once you find your way to the area, there is plenty of parking in the large parking lot shared by several buildings in the square.
After parking, I walked to the building’s doors and was greeted by a friendly tech-savvy teen holding an iPad in his hands. He was using a Square to swipe credit cards and charge for tickets directly on the device itself. We then payed for our tickets ($12) and proceeded in through the doors to the lobby.
For those of you who haven’t had a chance to visit this PA Square theater yet, it is not like Century 16 or the Redwood City Theater where you have a large lobby and then two sides with hallways then more doors leading into the actually screening rooms. Here, the doors you walk in are only about 50 feet from the other side of the room. In this ‘lobby’, there is a surprisingly well stocked concession stand with more or less the same basic movie snacks as the larger theaters in the Bay Area.
Both Sammy and I got the mint milkshakes ($4.50), expecting something a little more than what we got. The man we ordered from got the milk part down — a little too well. The shakes were practically just that, milk, and maybe one small scoop of melting mint chip ice cream, blended until it reached a state of complete fluidity. But anyway, besides the watery milkshake, the concession stand was still impressive for such a small space in a rather small theater.
It was now 4:50 p.m. so we gave our tickets to an older man by the door to the screening room and took our seats. Impressed by the, again, surprising quality of the room itself, I regretted not coming to see a movie here years ago. The room was huge and could easily fit 100 or so people. Even with many empty seats closer up, the three of us took the seats furthest in the back by the door. Unlike those of other theaters, this room was on a slight slant downward. This allowed, of course, for seats farther away not to be blocked by those in front of them. While most theaters have the back section dramatically elevated, each row a step higher, this method worked well enough for the layout needed in a smaller space.
One of the most memorable things about this whole theater that stood out from my visit was the interactive pre-movie trivia. While I’m not sure if this was only something they were only doing for the PAIFF, it is definitely something the theater should continue to do.
Around 5 p.m. when the movie was supposedly scheduled to start, instead of movie trailers, the screen had a list of instruction on how to start the interactive movie trivia. If you visited a website on your smart phone and entered your ticket’s ID number, it would link your phone up with the trivia game. The movie screen then showed Hollywood and butter related questions with five possible answers below. You then were able to look down at your phone and select an answer from the five listed. After 30 seconds the answers on the screen became bar graphs revealing what everyone else participating in the theater had chosen, and displaying the correct answer. This feature really one-upped the normal just text on the screen trivia more common elsewhere, giving the theater a personal aspect that I really enjoyed.
Along with the send-in trivia, after the movie ended, using the same app, you could rate the movie on a five star scale. Using the the ID you had typed in from your ticket, the app knew what movie you just saw and let you rate it with one tap of the screen. This both gives the theater feedback on the movies their showing and for those who have the app, a way of seeing what everyone else thought through a overall rating per showtime.
With the great parking, friendly ticket seller, stocked concession area and intractability of the theater made my visit to the Palo Alto Square a fairly unique and enjoyable experience. I would strongly recommend people who haven’t been to make it a weekend destination at least once. While they don’t show blockbuster hits, take your time and schedule a visit to see a movie you may not even have heard of, like we did. The experience of seeing an independent film in a smaller and more local feeling theater makes watching a movie at the Palo Alto Square worth your time.
Visit the Palo Alto Square Theatre’s Fandango page for upcoming showtimes.