A hop, skip, and a jump from the bustling intersection of Patton and French Broad Avenues in Downtown Asheville, several vehicles roll up to a small building. Car doors are slammed in haste, while each person scurries to the front door of the unassuming structure.
They’ve made it. They’re just on time for another screening at the Grail Moviehouse.
“To me, it’s hard to top the experience of seeing a great film on the big screen with an audience,” Steve White said. “Films combine the individual artistry of a huge amount people focused on one goal: To make the best movie possible.”
White and his partner, Davida Horwitz, opened the theater a couple years ago. The business has already become a beloved branch of the wide and ever-expanding artistic tree at the heart of the city.
“Asheville is unique in so many ways, but one that stands out is the artistic community here,” White said. “We believed that if we brought a wider variety of films to the area, we would find an audience. Now that we’ve been in business for about 18 months, we’re more convinced than ever.”
“The people who live in and visit Asheville love Asheville. We wanted to be a part of that celebration of this city and hopefully add to it,” Horwitz added. “It’s great to see and get to know our local regulars. It’s also wonderful when we get tourists and are able to share what makes Asheville great with them, give them recommendations of our favorite local spots, and just promote everything that makes this city unique.”
The couple has called Asheville home for several years. But it was in 2014 that they decided to take the leap and launch the Grail. Horwitz was headlong into a 20-year teaching career, but was looking for a change. White initially managed seven theaters across North Carolina, then found himself involved in corporate media. But his lifelong passion for film never wavered far from his dreams.
“I’ve found as a business owner in this town that there are some of the most amazing, hardworking, and supportive people living and working here,” Horwitz said. “Asheville takes pride in its independent businesses and art. I think we all work hard to give the best possible experience that we can to whomever walks through our doors.”
“We have the greatest places to eat, amazing local artists, and nothing is more beautiful than living in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Horwitz said. “I tell my children all the time, even driving to school, ‘Look, do you see how beautiful it is this morning? Other people come here on vacation and we get to live here.’”
“We believed that if we brought a wider variety of films to the area, we would find an audience. Now that we’ve been in business for about 18 months, we’re more convinced than ever.” —Steve White, Grail Moviehouse
Asheville has always been supportive of independent businesses (especially arts related). But it also has a large hunger for documentaries, indie films, and cult classics. This can be attributed to the city being a place where knowledge and an appreciation for quality art has remained a cornerstone of the welcoming and curious nature at the heart of the region itself.
“Film is unique in that it is a shared experience, but also so personal to every person. We can watch the same film together and laugh and cry together, discuss it, quote our favorite lines, and recall favorite movies endlessly,” Horwitz said. “Individually, you relate so many experiences to film because when you watch a movie, you’re bringing into the theater what your mindset is at a specific time in your life—your current attitudes and personal situation. You attach emotion to the people on the screen. You hear the score, which ties into your emotions. And, when you leave the theater, that experience stays with you.”
In addition to the usual first-run blockbuster and documentary releases, the Grail’s “bread and butter” (and ethos) resides in the pure magic of films that may or may not be well known. The theater pays homage to the silent film era, to iconic classics celebrating release anniversaries, and the best of the worst during “Bad Movie Nite.” During these screenings, viewers merely take a chance, only to walk out of the Grail forever changed.
“I was worried after leaving teaching that I would not be able to affect positive change and had done something purely selfish in changing careers,” Horwitz said. “I’m learning that we can continue to affect change by the movies we select. I am so proud of some of the films we are able to bring to Asheville.”
“We have wonderful customers who thank us as they are walking out, and that makes us so happy and proud to be doing this,” Horwitz said. “I think our vision for the theater has really expanded since we opened, and we could not be more appreciative of the people who continue to visit us. They are making a choice to leave their homes and have an experience here with us, and we appreciate that so much.”
Learn more about Grail Moviehouse at grailmoviehouse.com.