When people think of the film industry, they tend to picture places like Hollywood, New York City, and Los Angeles, but these aren’t the only places bursting with big-screen connections. Check out these Wichita ties to the film industry.
Movies quickly became a way of life for Wichitans in 1922, as that year saw the opening of two grand movie palaces. The Miller Theater and the Orpheum Theatre brought with them a boom in the entertainment industry, and it was not uncommon for Wichitans to visit the theater to see a show or vaudeville three or four nights a week. The new movie palaces were ornate and beautiful, featuring breathtaking European design elements and Baroque detailing.
The Miller Theater
The Miller Theater featured three balconies and a stunning, palatial design. The theater could seat up to 2,000 patrons. Though the Miller Theater was once the the most spectacular theater that Kansas had ever had, it eventually fell into a state of disrepair and, in 1972, was demolished.
Orpheum Theatre. Photo by Doug Hahn.
The Orpheum would go on to be the location for the Kansas premiere of “Gone With The Wind,” attended by Wichitan Hattie McDaniel, who portrayed "Mammy" in the film. The 1939 motion picture was a winner of eight Oscars. Of those Oscars, one was awarded to McDaniel, the first African-American to win the award.
The Orpheum Theatre also shut down in the early 70’s, but was saved from demolition by a band of community members who came together to fight for the theatre. It was named a historic site on the National Register of Historic Places, and eventually reopened, though the specific reopening date is uncertain. Today, the 93 year old Orpheum Theatre is being restored, and still holds regular concerts and movie screenings, lectures and other events.
An Internationally-recognized Independent Film Festival
Celebrating it's 14th year, Wichita’s Tallgrass Film Festival is one of the biggest film-related events in the Midwest. This year, the five-day festival will showcase 191 programmed films from from 33 countries around the world, featuring categories for foreign films, documentaries, shorts, retrospective pieces and more. In 2015, the festival drew 15,000 people to Wichita.
The Tallgrass Film Festival has been named one of the “Best Under the Radar Film Festivals” in North America by Flavorwire, and one of MovieMaker Magazine’s “Top 50 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.”
The festival serves to offer both a venue and a voice to independent filmmakers by spotlighting films that would otherwise not have a proper theatrical screening, while also showcasing Wichita's cultural & artistic communities.
The festival features a variety of special events like gala screenings, panels, parties, special interest programs and more. The 2016 Tallgrass Film Festival will be held Oct. 12-16.
A Classic Horror Festival and Film Revival Group
One of a Very Few Remaining Drive-In Theaters
Originally called Rainbow, Wichita's Starlite Drive-In opened in 1974. After 42 years in Wichita, the Starlite is still going strong, and it's one of just 348 drive-in theaters remaining in the United States. Of those, just five are located in Kansas.
The Starlite Drive-In offers Wichita moviegoers a retro-style movie experience, complete with 50’s style advertisements that air before and between films.
The theatre has remained operating for more than 40 years, as a true testament to the strength of Wichita’s film-loving community.
A World-Class IMAX Theater
Measuring six-stories high, the screen in the IMAX at the West 21st Street Warren is one of the biggest in the world, and the biggest digital display in the United States. The system uses the most powerful digital projection system in the world, and it still takes two projectors to accommodate a screen this size. To run the sound system, at least 60,000 watts of power are necessary.
With such a massive screen and enhanced sound, the Warren Theatres website calls this the “world’s most innovative movie-going experience.” The IMAX opened in December of 2010, screening Tron as the first IMAX film in Wichita.
Popular Movie Mentions
Wichita has received mention in many blockbuster films. Most notably, Wichita is referenced in the 2009 film Zombieland, starring Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, and Abigail Breslin. Emma Stone's character in Zombieland is called "Wichita" in reference to her character's town of origin. Here are some other mentions of Wichita in the movies:
Twister (1996) - "Yeah, well Kansas is a mess, there's a big crease right through Wichita."
The Ice Harvest (2005) - This movie is set in Wichita, Kansas. I will never understand the most famous line "As Wichita falls... so falls Wichita Falls." It's deep and/or dark beyond my intellect.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) - Neal: "Are you saying I could be stuck in Wichita?" Del: "I'm saying you are stuck in Wichita."
Big Fish (2003) - "Her neighbor drove her, on account of your father was on business in Wichita."
The Big Kahuna (1999) - A Kevin Spacey movie set in Wichita. There are a couple of quick shots of downtown that a movie crew came to town to shoot. The skyline hasn't changed much since then.
All the President's Men (1976) - "...that’s a question straight out of Wichita, Kansas."
A Surprisingly Common Filming Location
Though it is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of film sets, Wichita sets the scene for several different movies, even bringing big-name actors like Danny Devito and Kevin Spacey to ICT! Check out these movies that were filmed in Wichita:
- 5 Conversations
- The Attic
- The Big Kahuna
- The Gypsy Moths
- King Kung Fu
- Mars Attacks!
- Night Screams
- Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter's End