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What would the world be like without Quentin Tarantino? Movies today might be a lot less bloody, but it would be a pretty dull existence had Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs never blown us away with their gritty, low-budget appeal.

Independent films are often revered, but they don't enjoy lavish movie premieres and big Hollywood bucks. Yet they have to get started somewhere—and Tucson has the Screening Room, where independent filmmakers get a shot to show "extraordinary films not shown on ordinary screens."

October brings good news for the aspiring Tarantinos of Tucson: The Screening Room is getting a major upgrade to coincide with its 20th anniversary.

The 100-year-old building has been renovated inside and out over the past few months. The improvements will be showcased with a grand ceremony to celebrate the biggest addition of all: a brand-spanking-new marquee. It's as if the Screening Room has finally arrived after spending 20 years tucked in the shadows of Congress Street.

And it is stepping out in a big way: The public is invited to see the Screening Room marquee lit up for the very first time during a street party with live music from the Apocalypso steel drum band and Congress Street favorite Al Perry.

Mia Schnaible, a spokeswoman for the Screening Room, says that the goal of the new marquee was to restore the façade, yet keep the building's 1930s feel.

The sign was designed by Ibarra Rosano Design Architects to showcase upcoming screenings in a high-profile way. Addisigns recently hoisted it up above the doorway, closing off one lane of Congress Street to do so, says Schnaible.

The Screening Room's parent organization, the Arizona Media Arts Center—an organization that promotes independent-media performance—funded the marquee, with help from the city's Back to Basics program, the Façade Improvement Program of the Downtown Tucson Partnership and various fundraisers.

Mayor Bob Walkup was selected to officially light up the marquee, but was called out of town. Schnaible's lips are sealed as to whom his replacement will be, but she promises it will be a Tucson celebrity.

So what does the new sign look like?

"Super-pretty," says Schnaible. "The words will light up ... and we've got a new ticket window to display."

What will this new bling bring to the Screening Room? Schnaible insists that the theater will be "bigger and better than ever."

Indeed, after being closed three months for renovations, the Screening Room kicked off a new season on Oct. 22, and has a promising lineup continuing throughout the year.

The marquee celebration follows on the heels of the event IGNITE Tucson V, to be held on Thursday, Oct. 29. For those who have never been, this event allows 15 people each to do a five-minute PowerPoint presentation on a topic of their choosing.

In the general spirit of the Screening Room, "it is a forum for voices that don't get heard," says Schnaible.

She says that past presentation subjects have ranged from robots to a pitch for a park on top of Sentinel Peak. Though the sign-up deadline to present has passed, anyone with $5 can attend and see what is brewing in the basements (or Arizona rooms?) of outspoken Tucsonans.

The first event to kick off the newly lit-up Screening Room will be the Arizona Underground Film Festival, returning for its second year. The festival takes place on Monday, Nov. 2, and Thursday, Nov. 5, through Saturday, Nov. 7.

"This is when you will see films with a little more edgy content," says Schnaible. "You're not going to get heartwarming stories." (Attendees can check out a full schedule at azundergroundfilmfest.bside.com/2009.)

While the new marquee will certainly attract attention, the Screening Room has always enjoyed a modest bunch of faithful followers. Schnaible says that Tucsonans are especially receptive to hearing what the little man has to say.

"I think people here enjoy independent film," says Schnaible. "They recognize that people have a voice, and that there are many voices that need to be heard."

Now that 16-screen cinemas are not the only movie houses with flashy signs, those voices might receive a few more listening ears. Tarantinos of Tucson, rejoice.

More by Erica Nannini

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