Ragtag exists to champion independent film and media art and to serve film communities both locally and globally.
In 1997, the all-volunteer effort known as the Ragtag Film Society began screening films at Columbia's premier downtown concert venue, The Blue Note. Society members included David Wilson, Paul Sturtz, Gabriel Wallace, Scott Davis, and Chad Furgueson, who were supported by the generosity of The Blue Note's Richard King, 9th Street Video's Janet Marsh, a mysteriously connected man named Sam Black, and countless disenfranchised Columbia youth. With no experience in the film business, scant technical knowledge and a devil-may-care attitude, the film society curated five series, tapping into tremendous community enthusiasm for independent film. Highlights include the gorgeous Princess Mononoke, the first film screened with an operational, if cobbled together, 35mm projection system, a Superbowl Sunday screening of Underground, and such late 20th century music docs as Kurt & Courtney and Wild Man Blues.
In short order, the Society was ready for a brick-and-mortar storefront. Meanwhile, Ron Rottinghaus, Tim Spence, and Holly Roberson (Bonavita Enterprises) had a vision for a combination bakery, bar, and occasional movie house. Forces were joined, support was mustered, but no viable location could be found. Finally in May 2000, Bonavita Enterprises opened Ragtag Cinemacafé at 23 N. 10th Street, in part due to the benevolent support of Margot McMillen. Housed in a storefront, the 10th Street theater was intimate with 70 seats and a tiny bar. The first screening was the best movie ever about Missouri, Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman. Other program highlights from the early Tenth Street days include Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark. In June 2001, Uprise Bakery, also a Bonavita project, opened around the corner at 816 Broadway, offering customers full-flavored artisan and whole grain breads, homemade soups, specialty sandwiches, scratch pastries, bread plates, and breakfast. Even before its opening date, Uprise Bakery provided inspired bread, soups, snacks, and a bar, forming the basis of unique, house-made concessions and grown-up beverages for Ragtag Cinema's patrons.
A hugely popular screening of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window at the Missouri Theatre in 2000 and a fundraising dinner hosted by cinephile and Ragtag early supporter, Dr. Sarah Riddick, made it possible for the Society to purchase a 35mm projector for the Missouri Theatre, which led to four years of ambitious collaborative series. The historic 1,200-seat Missouri Theatre was home to, among other events, a sell-out show of Sing-Along Sound of Music and the silent film classic Nosferatu with live accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra.
Also in 2004, Ragtag Cinema reconfigured itself into a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit arts organization and received tax exemption from the IRS. Original board members included Anna Lingo, Ron Newman, Charlotte Overby, Tom Prater, Dr. Sarah Riddick, and Dr. Nancy West.
Over the next few years, Ragtag continued to expand its scope. In February 2004, Ragtag supported the first True/False Film Fest, which sold 4,000 tickets to films at three venues over a three-day weekend. Highlights from the first T/F included opening night film Touching the Void, directed by Kevin Macdonald, and Errol Morris's The Fog of War. Since that time, True/False has increased audience size tenfold, tripled its number of venues and expanded to a four-day festival, featuring more than 120 screenings, as well as concerts, panels, receptions, multidisciplinary media events, visual arts installations, and some of the most epic parties Columbia, Missouri has ever experienced.
By late 2006, Ragtag Cinema and its audiences had outgrown its cramped lobby, single bathroom, and aging projection equipment. The Board of Directors launched a capital campaign to raise funds for a new theater space and all its accoutrements. Within two years, the community had contributed around $250,000 to cover much of the cost of final construction, seating, screens, curtains, the box office, ticketing systems, and projection equipment.
In February 2008, Ragtag moved to its current home in the former Coca-Cola bottling plant at 10 Hitt Street, which has since become lovingly known by all who inhabit this space as Hittsville. Improved facilities include waiting area; multiple bathrooms; new 35mm and digital projectors and updated sound technology; improved sight lines; vastly improved ADA access; and two, much larger screens. We were thrilled to move in with Uprise Bakery and Ninth Street Video, and to be able to offer arts, food and entertainment, and a unique experience to an ever-growing audience. In 2012, Hittsville welcomed Hitt Records to our family of businesses and array of arts under one roof.
Since the 2008 move to our current home at Hittsville, Ragtag Cinema has screened more than one thousand first-run new release films and hosted hundreds of special event screenings and archival films. Each month we present special screening events, collaborating with our fellow not-for-profit community organizations, to further their missions through the media of film, as well as our own mission to "enrich film communities both locally and globally." We also host four annual series, funded by a grant from The National Endowment for The Arts, and curated by the talented young programmer Chris Boeckmann. These include the Passport Series, our eight-week contemporary international series; Home Brewed, a series dedicated to young and promising works from first-time American directors; Wide Angle, a critical look into social justice issues; and an annual archival 35mm series, focusing on a theme or director and exhibited on archival prints.
Ragtag Film Society has grown into a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit arts organization operating Ragtag Cinema, 365 days a year and our annual four-day documentary film festival, the True/False Film Fest. Original members of the Ragtag Film Society, Paul Sturtz and David Wilson, continue to serve as programmers for our 13-year-old film festival, and Sturtz continues to serve as head booker of Ragtag Cinema. Every screening at the fest, and many of the screenings at our cinema, are accompanied by personal appearances from filmmakers, critics, and other key players in the filmmaking process, in order to foster film appreciation and to stimulate discussion with our dynamic, diverse and ever-growing audiences. Filmmaker Magazine has recognized Sturtz and Wilson among an esteemed list of the most important individuals in the documentary film industry. Our executive director, Tracy Lane, has over two decades of leadership experience with many of Columbia's arts organizations including The Blue Note, Orr Street Artists Guild, Artrageous Fridays, and Roots 'N Blues 'N BBQ Festival. Lane takes great pride in the partnerships she has developed with fellow local nonprofits, arts and educational organizations in her role as Ragtag Film Society's ED. She has furthered the mission of the organization in her efforts to connect all members of our shared community through the art of film. Our cinema and festival have truly provided greater awareness and fostered communication and understanding of the diverse needs of our community on both the local and global scale. By exhibiting both current and archival films, we strive to educate through film, and about film, to an audience which otherwise would not have access to these programs.
Ragtag Cinema humbly thanks everyone who has participated in the creation and operation of the theater. As patrons, volunteers, donors, members, presenters, and filmmakers, you have made Ragtag Cinema what it is today.