The premiere of "Trouble in the Heights"


Perhaps the best part of last night's premiere of "Trouble in the Heights" at the United Palace – the first film shown there on the silver screen since "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 1969 – was how seamlessly everything fit together.

It was a great movie to show in front of a great audience in a great location.

Before the show started more than one cluster of audience members buzzed about how they had never attended a movie premiere. That excitement was compounded by the fact that it was taking place in their own neighborhood and featured a movie that was shot in their backyard.

Washington Heights' largely Latino audience hungers for well-acted films featuring unique stories that, most of all, are peopled by actors who look and think and behave like they do. With "Trouble" they got all that plus a silver screen large enough to make those Latino faces 40 feet tall.

The screening, produced by the United Palace of Cultural Arts (UPCA), gogoPatience c+p, Numeric Pictures, and UL Media, was another one of those moments that felt like Washington Heights was coming into its own.

Audience members responded as if they were ready for it, as if they routinely spend their Thursday nights attending film screenings. All the more impressive because it was 20 degrees outside.

But that's not to say that everyone fully understood just how grand of a premiere this independent movie was going to have in this old theatre.

Olga Merediz, who both stars in the film and will return to the Palace to reprise her role as Abuela in "In the Heights" on February 11, had never before set foot in the theatre's spectacular lobby, one of Manhattan's finest. She was clearly star struck by the architecture, immediatley taking a short tour of the space with eyes wide and mouth agape. She wasn't the only one. When I took the stage to ask my now standard question – "Show of hands: How many of you are at the Palace for the first time?" – about a third of the 700 strong audience members raised their hands.

The audience clearly hungered for the experience.

After the screening and several burst of applause, with the lights on bright, the cast and crew sat on the front of the stage for a Q&A. UPCA, which has a life-affirming message and a mission to uplift children through the arts, had taken issue with how "Trouble" portrayed violence against children. The Q&A session allowed that topic to be explored with the filmmakers, particularly how the story resolved its central tension without resorting to an eye-for-an-eye ethos, which seems to be standard operating procedure for Hollywood. Then the audience took over, asking questions that built on these themes, discussing how "Trouble" represented women, depicted drug dealers – but not drug dealing – and how it represents the future of independent filmmaking.

Like I wrote in an earlier post, this screening was a test drive for reviving motion pictures at the United Palace, which opened as a movie theater in 1930. We don't know where film goes next, either as an industry or at the Palace. But given the results of this first screening, we're very excited to see what happens next.

For additional photographs from the premiere, visit the "Trouble in the Heights" premiere slideshow with photos by Mike Fitelson and Art by DJ Boy.