Bama Theater to show ‘Elf’ and Christmas Vacation’ for the holidays

Fund-raiser for the Junior League of Tuscaloosa; hopes to become a seasonal regular

A pair of Christmas favorite movies will play the Bama Theater Dec. 17, with the 2003 “Elf” at 2 pm, and the 1989 “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” at 7, in a new holiday fundraiser created by the Junior League of Tuscaloosa.

Tickets for the “Elf” matinee are $12, and $15 for the evening “Christmas Vacation.” Sales open Monday, through

All proceeds will benefit the Junior League of Tuscaloosa’s community partners, including Holt Elementary School, and the Tuscaloosa Angels mission. The Junior League has partnered with Holt Elementary for more than 20 years; Tuscaloosa Angels is a local nonprofit support group for foster families. Money raised will also assist a free field trip for Holt Elementary students to see the 2004 movie “The Polar Express” at the Bama.

The Junior League will add seasonal decor to the venerable movie palace for Dec. 17, in what it’s naming Merry and Bright at the Bama Theatre. Concessions will be sold during both movies, with a specialty cocktail created for the evening date night.

The idea spun off partly from Birmingham’s Alabama Theatre, which has for many years shown holiday classics in December, along with spooky movies around Halloween.

“The League has been exploring new ideas for raising necessary funds for women and children in Tuscaloosa while also adding value to our community with a new event,” said Elizabeth Hinson, JLT executive vice president, in a written release. “I have loved taking my own children to Birmingham to watch holiday movies over the years, and am so excited the League is bringing that experience to Tuscaloosa this year. “

The Bama Theater has been closed to the public since late June, undergoing carpeting and seating renovations, and is just reaching the point where it’s ready to reopen with the annual “Rocky Horror Picture Show” performance, hosted by the Pink Box Burlesque, on Oct . 29.

The 17th was the only pre-Christmas Saturday open in December this year, with Tuscaloosa Children’s Theater moving in to the Bama in late November for its “Frozen Jr.,” with public performances Dec. 2-4. Then the Tuscaloosa Community Dancers will come right on their heels with the seasonal “The Nutcracker” ballet performances, which go up Dec. 8-11. Arts Council Executive Director Sandy Wolfe said she’d like to block off a holiday movie series for 2023, if renters and time permit.

Since this is the first year for the holiday movie idea, the Junior League leaned on the Arts Council for its expertise. The Bama was built in 1938 as a movie palace, then renovated and converted to a performing-arts space beginning in the 1970s. In 1999, projection equipment was brought back in, to begin showing films on an as-available basis, first as the Silver Screen, then Cinema Nouveau, and finally Bama Art House movie series. The 35mm projection was replaced by a digital system in 2015. Rented usually 300 or more days per year by local artists and other groups, the Bama/Arts Council books indie, foreign and other non-multiplex films when a string of dates are open.

“We actually had a management team meeting in the spring, chatting, throwing around ideas,” said Chelsea Belk, vice-president of communications for the JLP. “It was kind of born from that.”

The Bama helped with licensing and other technical details, while the Junior League chose a pair of movies, one designed to appeal to a younger crowd for the matinee, and the other more of an adults’ date-night feel.

About the movies

“Elf” stars Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Mary Steenburgen, Peter Dinklage, Faizon Love, Michael Lerner, Kyle Gass, Andy Richter, Artie Lange, Peter Billingsley (from “A Christmas Story”) as Ming Ming, and Leon Redbone as the voice of narrator Leon the Snowman.

Directed by Jon Favreau, it’s the story of Buddy (Ferrell), an orphan who climbs into Santa’s (Asner) bag one night, and gets accepted and trained as an elf, despite being human. When he’s fully grown, his stepdad (Newhart) breaks the news that he was adopted. Buddy treks from the North Pole to New York City to meet his birth family. It’s partly animated, partly designed like a children’s storybook, gradually becoming more realistic as Buddy approaches the city, where his dad (Caan) is an unhappy publisher of children’s books. Buddy turns everyone’s life upside down through his relentlessly cheery, childlike spirit, and utter obliviousness to decorum. Although it’s a light-hearted comedy, “Elf” is rated PG for “mild rude humor and language.”

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” follows the string of comedies based on John Hughes’ semi-autobiographical stories for the satirical magazine. The Hughes family became the Griswolds for the 1983 “Vacation” and 1985 “European Vacation,” and preceding “Vegas Vacation” and “Christmas Vacation 2” (made for TV). “Christmas Vacation” was the biggest hit of the string, except for the 2015 remake of the original.

Starring Chevy Chase as Clark Grisworld, Beverly D’Angelo as Ellen Griswold, and Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie, it also features William Hickey, Mae Questel, Dianne Ladd, EG Marshall, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, Miriam Flynn, John Randolph, Doris Roberts, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest and Brian Doyle-Murray. The family home becomes overrun with freeloading family, Clark’s excessive lighting displays, rampaging rodents and the typical Griswoldian awkward life disasters. As popular as it was on release, like “Elf” it became something of a cult/holiday classic when released on DVD, and for broadcast. It’s rated PG-13 for partial nudity, comedic violence, and profanity.

“To be completely honest, I haven’t seen either of those movies,” Belk said; they were chosen with an eye towards what might be of widest interest to the community.

The Junior League and Arts Council hope the holiday movie idea takes hold, and joins other seasonal traditions such as Holidays on the Plaza, the Tinsel Trail, the West Alabama Christmas Parade, “The Nutcracker” and others.

For the Dec. 17 holiday movies, doors will open one hour before showtime. Seating is general admission: first come, first served.

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