David Lauderdale

Beaufort, movie capital of SC, has a film festival. Why doesn’t it have a theater?

5 Beaufort locations featured in blockbuster movies

Do you recognize any of these five Beaufort locations that have been featured in big blockbuster movies? Movies like 'Forrest Gump', 'The Big Chill' and 'Forces of Nature' all came to Beaufort to film parts of their movies.
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Do you recognize any of these five Beaufort locations that have been featured in big blockbuster movies? Movies like 'Forrest Gump', 'The Big Chill' and 'Forces of Nature' all came to Beaufort to film parts of their movies.

It’s not every day that I get in on an act of desperation, but this one involves you.

A kind soul in Beaufort writes: “Simply put, I’m writing to you as a desperation move to see if you can stir someone up to build a new movie theater here in Beaufort.

“Just recently our old, well-loved, movie theater was torn down to make way for a new Publix. We may or may not need a new Publix, but we sure as heck don’t need to drive to Bluffton to see the latest movies, or take our kids and grandkids there either.”

Yes, the Plaza Stadium Theater, a Beaufort fixture since 1975, has gone dark. What’s left in town is the Highway 21 Drive-In, “where the stars come out at night.”

And we need to stir up someone.

“We don’t need a high end, multi-screen, reclining-seats, make-a-reservation, new theater,” I’m told. “Just one with a few screens and a decent popcorn machine. We actually have a closed theater on Lady’s Island, but no one seems interested in refurbishing it.”

I’m sure it’s strictly a business decision.

But the theater situation is especially hurtful for Beaufort, the movie capital of South Carolina.

Never is that more obvious than February, when the nonprofit Beaufort Film Society produces the annual Beaufort International Film Festival.

The 13th festival runs Feb. 19-24, with almost 60 films to be shown at the USCB Center for the Arts on Carteret Street, with a lot of galas and awards to spice it up.

Gov. Henry McMaster tells why this matters in a letter to the festival, which is organized by Ron and Rebecca Tucker.

“The Palmetto State has a proud cinematic history, and the beautiful City of Beaufort has certainly been the ‘gold standard’ for showcasing our state in a most positive way.

“For the past half-century, the Spanish moss-draped oak trees, sweeping marsh vistas, and antebellum homes have provided the backdrop for more than 20 major motion pictures, including ‘Forest Gump,’ ‘The Big Chill,’ ‘The Prince of Tides,’ and many others.”

McMaster praises the film festival for giving “us a close look at the power of cinema and the wondrous ways of making us laugh, cry, think and change.”

We’re lucky to have the film festival. But Beaufort without a good, old, sticky-floored movie theater is like Paris without Mona Lisa.

“Believe it or not,” our desperate theater advocate writes, “there are hundreds of us here that feel the same way. We don’t want to be pop cultural dropouts, even if we are ‘over the hill.’ And the kids need to visit a movie theater once in a while. Not the space age one in Bluffton, where many families can’t afford to take them.

“In a town area of approximately 40,000, it seems that we could at least have our own movie theater.

“P.S. Contacting some of the powers that be here in Beaufort went nowhere.”

So there’s your assignment. Take advantage of the Beaufort International Film Festival. And get someone stirred up enough to bring an indoor movie house back to Beaufort.

Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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