In 1998, the all-volunteer effort known as the Ragtag Film Society began screening films at Columbia's premier downtown concert venue, The Blue Note, with Jim Jarmusch's Neil Young documentary, Year of the Horse, on Sunday, January 18. Society members included David Wilson, Paul Sturtz, Gabriel Wallace, Scott Davis, and Chad Ferguson, 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, plus a number of restless 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 Todd Solondz's Happiness, Hayao Miyazaki's gorgeous Princess Mononoke (on a barely operational 16mm projector), and a Superbowl Sunday screening of Emir Kusturica's Underground.
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 North 10th Street, in part due to the benevolent support of Margot McMillen. Housed in a storefront below the local Odd Fellows lodge, the 10th Street theater was an intimate, eclectic space with 70 seats made up of donated couches and salvaged office chairs. The first official screening, on June 2, was Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman (a Missouri favorite). In June 2001, Uprise Bakery, also a Bonavita project, opened around the corner, at 816 E. Broadway, offering customers full-flavored artisan and whole-grain breads, homemade soups, specialty sandwiches and pastries. 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 Cinemacafé'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 early Ragtag 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 programming. The historic 1,200-seat theater was home to a sold-out show of Sing-Along Sound of Music and the silent film classic Nosferatu with live accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra.
In 2004, Ragtag Cinemacafé reconfigured itself into a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit arts organization, Ragtag Programming for Film and Media Art. Original board members included Anna Lingo, Ron Newman, Charlotte Overby, Tom Prater, Dr. Sarah Riddick, and Dr. Nancy West.
In February 2004, Ragtag supported the first True/False Film Festival (the second project of our nonprofit), which sold 4,000 movie tickets at three venues over a three-day weekend. Highlights from the first fest include opening-night film Touching the Void, and Errol Morris's The Fog of War. Since that time, True/False Film Fest has increased audience size tenfold, dropped the "-ival", tripled its number of venues and expanded to a four-day festival, featuring more than 120 screenings, as well as concerts, panels, multidisciplinary media events, art installations, epic parties — and a parade.
By late 2006, Ragtag Cinemacafé and its audiences had outgrown its intimate lobby, single bathroom (inside the theater!), 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 final construction, seating, screens, curtains, box office, ticketing system, and projection equipment.
In February 2008, finally realizing Bonavita's original vision as public house + arthouse, Ragtag Cinemacafé sloughed the "café" and moved to its current home in the old Coca-Cola bottling plant, at 10 Hitt Street, with Uprise Bakery. 9th Street Video (on Hitt) also joined the fun to round out the downtown cultural hotspot. We dubbed the space Hittsville. Uprise Bakery gained a full-size bar and a sizeable dining room. The cinema enjoyed new 35mm and digital projectors, updated sound technology, improved sightlines, much-improved ADA access, and two much larger screens.
In 2012, facing a changing movie industry, the cinema launched its successful Ragtag Needs Robots capital campaign to complete its digital projection system.
In 2015, the nonprofit changed its name from Ragtag Programming for Film and Media Art to the more digestible Ragtag Film Society.
Also in 2015, the cinema added a 35mm change-over system in our large auditorium. This allows us to exhibit archival prints and films not yet transferred to a digital medium.
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.