It’s significant that the Niagara Falls International Film Festival opening night party will be held at The Rapids Theatre on Wednesday.

In the glory days of moviegoing – the 1930s through the 1950s – Niagara Falls was the location of numerous theaters showing films. Some opened as vaudeville houses and were converted to “picture show palaces.” Many underwent name changes throughout their history.

These cinema venues included the Cataract, the LaSalle, the Colonial, the Lumberg, the Capitol, the Niagara Falls, the Strand, the Rapids, the State, and the Rainbo. Yes, there was no letter W at the end of this Rainbo.

Most of the theaters were large. 700 to 950 people could watch a movie in comfort in many of them. The Strand, the biggest, sat 2,061. The smallest was the Niagara Falls Cinema, at 1823 Pine Avenue, which had room for only 365 patrons.

Almost all of the theaters have been demolished and their location may still be a vacant lot. The Rapids, which had 1,535 seats originally, is now a concert venue.

There were also drive-ins, such as the Falls Auto-Vue (500 cars) and the Starlite (730 cars). Both have faded into beloved memories.

One of the highlights of the Golden Age Of Moviegoing, which two full generations have now missed, were double features. Two different movies for the price of one were shown. The main picture was the star-studded attraction. The secondary film was known as a B-movie.

The directorial king of the B-movie was Samuel Fuller, a gruff iconoclast, who, if he didn’t have a cigar in his mouth on the set, often had a pistol in his hand.

The Criterion Collection, that bastion of the restoration of motion pictures, calls Fuller “a singularly audacious B-movie visionary [who] made purposefully crude, elegantly stripped-down films that laid bare the dark side of American culture.”

Fuller’s peak filmmaking era was the 1950s through the 1960s. A retrospective of his movies is a highlight of the second annual Niagara Falls International Film Festival, which runs Wednesday through Saturday at the Regal Niagara Falls theater.

Fuller’s widow Christa Lang and daughter Samantha will be present to receive the festival’s “Icon Of Industry” award, which honors his filmmaking. Fuller will also show the 2013 documentary she made about her father, “A Fuller Life.” Actors Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Ciccio, Kelly Ward, and actor-director Perry Lang will participate in the ceremony.

Movie fans will be able to see a number of the director’s films, including “The Big Red One” (1980), “China Gate” (1957), “Hell And High Water” (1954), “The Naked Kiss” (1964), “The Steel Helmet” (1951), and his seminal work, “Shock Corridor” (1963), which is about a newspaper reporter who goes undercover at a mental institution to investigate a murder. Film restoration specialist and historian Michael Schlesinger will speak about the importance and vitality of Fuller’s movies.

Celebrated actor Louis Gossett Jr. will also be honored by the festival. He will receive its “Legacy Award” for his career achievements spanning more than 50-years. The supporting actor Academy Award-winner for “An Officer And A Gentleman,” Gossett will screen his new movie, “The Reason,” a drama directed by Randall Stevens, which is based on the novel of the same name by William Sirls.

The Niagara Falls International Film Festival is scheduled to show 27 feature-length works and 44 shorts, which is a substantial increase from 2018. Panel discussions with filmmakers and audience Q and A sessions are also part of the programming.

The festival’s founder and president, Bill Cowell, said “it’s always thrilling to grow the festival with more screenings and more filmmaker appearances for local film fans to enjoy.” He continued, “with the best in independent film, [this] is going to add up to an incredible week for the city and the people here that truly love movies.”

Some of the narrative features set to screen are: Linda Palmer’s “Turnover,” Matt Shapira’s “Big Muddy,” Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak’s “The Wall Of Mexico,” Ron Vignone’s “Two Ways Home,” Max Martini’s “Sgt. Will Gardner, ” and Rob Margolies’ “Yes.” A highlight of the documentary program is April Wright’s “Going Attractions: The Definitive Story Of The Movie Palace.”

A red carpet gala celebrating director Fuller at The Rapids Theatre on Wednesday, September 18 kicks off the festival.

For complete information regarding the gala, showtimes and ticket prices, go to:

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette. Contact him at

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