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How to see movies for free — or nearly free 

click to enlarge The W-French Quarter courtyard provides an elegant backdrop for movie screenings.

Photo courtesy W-French Quarter

The W-French Quarter courtyard provides an elegant backdrop for movie screenings.

Your great-uncle may reminisce about the days when 10 cents paid for a double bill at the neighborhood cinema, but a night at the movies today isn't such a cheap proposition. The National Association of Theatre Owners says on average, a family of four can expect to shell out nearly $32 for tickets to a movie, and a large popcorn, two shared soft drinks and a bag of M&Ms are likely to run an additional $24.

  New Orleans offers cinephiles plenty of opportunities to watch new, classic and cult flicks for less. Here are five ways to save a fistful of dollars on film programming this summer.

Louisiana in film — Though Louisiana Story's romanticized view of Cajun culture in the late 1940s may appear far from subtle to the present-day viewer, Robert Flaherty's Standard Oil-sponsored documentary juxtaposing untouched bayou landscapes with images of the petroleum industry provides a fitting analogue to The Historic New Orleans Collection's (THNOC) wide-ranging From Cameo to Close-up: Louisiana in Film. In tandem with the exhibition of posters, lobby cards and other materials related to Louisiana film culture (on view at the Williams Research Center through Nov. 26), THNOC presents a free monthly series of films set in and/or shot in Louisiana and ranging from the days of Old Hollywood to the 21st century.

  "I think what one can learn from these is the way New Orleans and Louisiana have been used in movies and how the image of the city has changed in the past 75 years," says John Magill, senior curator and historian at THNOC. "[In Jezebel] it's a very large, very glamorous, very wealthy city ... but you see a much grittier city when [movies] started being filmed here in the 1950s and 1960s."

  Next up (June 28) is Elvis Presley in 1958's King Creole, followed by a walk-through of the exhibit Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere with photographer Richard Sexton.

  The Historic New Orleans Collection/ Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St., (504) 523-4662; From Cameo to Close-up: Louisiana in Film is free and open to the public 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Screenings, held the last Saturday of each month at 10:30 a.m., are also free and open to the public

Screenwriting series — As disillusioned screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) and faded silent-era star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) learn in the course of Billy Wilder's caustic, clever Hollywood drama Sunset Boulevard, the movies are a cruel business. Fortunately for those seeking a friendlier introduction to the craft, New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC) and the New Orleans Public Library have teamed up on a quartet of free 90-minute seminars for aspiring and experienced screenwriters. If you dream of turning that seat at the multiplex into a place behind the scenes, the "Screenwriting Series," led by New Orleans-based writer/director and former NOVAC programs director Ashley Charbonnet, offers organized instruction with broad appeal.

  "NOVAC has always been committed, as part of our mission, to doing community film education that is free or competitive pricewise," NOVAC Executive Director Darcy McKinnon says. "If you're not enrolled in film school at this point, there's not really another place you can do this."

  The third installment (June 26) includes screenings of short films and a discussion of how the short format affects writing style and narrative construction. The final seminar, (Aug. 7) features members of the city's acting community conducting readings of scripts by screenwriters Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally), Paddy Chayefsky (Marty) and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver). With support like this, rest assured you won't end up like Gillis when you decide to take the plunge.

  The free seminar "Slice of Life: Understanding the Short" is 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. June 26 at the Rosa Keller Library and Community Center, 4300 S. Broad St. Visit for more details.

New Orleans Film Society — Unlike the scenario in the 1956 musical High Society, which featured Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly in a well-to-do love triangle and New Orleans' own Louis Armstrong playing himself, gaining entry to the New Orleans Film Society (NOFS) doesn't require blue blood. For $60 a year, NOFS program director Clint Bowie confirms, "Moviegoer"-level members receive at least two free screenings a month at Chalmette Movies, a free monthly screening at the Contemporary Arts Center, free popcorn at The Theatres at Canal Place and access to special and advance screenings throughout the year. The money you could save by taking advantage of all the freebies — $228 on the Chalmette and CAC screenings alone — will have you in high cotton.

  New Orleans Film Society/ Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., (504) 309-6633; "Moviegoer" membership: $60 per year, 15 percent off for film professionals and seniors 65 and older, 50 percent off for members younger than 30.

Burgundy Picture House — In Peter Bogdanovich's 1971 classic The Last Picture Show, based on the novel by Larry McMurtry, rough-edged theater owner Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) presides over a forlorn Texas hamlet. Fortunately, Burgundy Picture House is anything but: The outdoor Bywater screening space, which offers free, biweekly presentations of cutting-edge, art house and foreign films, $1 beers (or BYOB) and food by Hey Y'all Catering, is far from ready to close its doors. Its five-part Summer Sci-Fi Series continues through July 29. Next up on July 1 is the cosmically crazy 1974 Sun Ra vehicle Space is the Place, best described as a blaxploitation sci-fi musical sprinkled with New Age philosophy.

  Burgundy Picture House, 4117 Burgundy St.; There are free screenings every other Tuesday. Doors open at 8 p.m., the movie starts at 8:30 p.m.

SoBou and the W French Quarter — Compared to the other entries on this list, the monthly "Sunday Cinema: Dinner and a Movie" series organized by SoBou and the W French Quarter is a splurge. But for $25, you get two dining courses, a specialty cocktail sample and reserved seating in the W courtyard to see Tom Cruise behind the bar in Cocktail (July 20). The movies are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. With snacks ($5), themed specialty cocktails ($10) and beer and wine ($5) for sale, watching Bridesmaids (June 22) and other crowd pleasers under the stars may not end up saving much compared to a regular movie house.

  W New Orleans-French Quarter, 316 Chartres St., (504) 581-1200; Reservations are encouraged. Parking at the W is free for dinner guests, $5 for others (at the special event rate), while space is available.

More New Orleans Cheap Thrills:

City Park on the cheap 24 cheap eats in 24 hours10 restaurants where you can BYOBFine dining super-bargainsHappy hours Bargains at museumsHow to see movies for freeFive $10 road trips near New OrleansFree and cheap live storytelling eventsLow-cost dental care

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