The Retro Film Series continues at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham from July to December. The series will celebrate its 20th birthday next year and includes RetroFantasma, RetroClassics, RetroTreasures and RetroAmore—four sections in which anyone in their mid-30s to early-40s will find the fancy of his or her youth. All the featured movies were released between 1920 and 1997.

“I always say to qualify for retro, a movie has to be at least 20 years old,” Jim Carl, senior director of film programming, said. “Why 20 years old? Because I feel that’s about how much time it takes for one generation to grow up, have kids, and actually miss seeing that movie back on the big screen. It takes about 20 years for that cycle to happen.”

The Retro Film Series helped craft the Carolina Theatre’s identity when it reopened in 1994 by providing sources of nostalgia for people who, like Jim Carl himself, miss the movies in the '70s and '80s. Since no other venue in the Triangle was doing anything similar, the area's residents reacted excitedly. Encouraged by the success and the viewer’s requests, the series has expanded over the years from only showing horror and sci-fi films to also including dramas, musicals, rom coms, foreign films, epics and even silent films.

“What [viewers] really were excited to see were some of the films that they grew up on,” said Jim Carl.

He makes sure that the audience will have the best retro experience by surveying what movies viewers want to see back on the screen. This year, the chosen films range from “White Christmas” to “Halloween II”, “Alien” to “Westworld” and “Man of La Mancha” to “Motel Hell.” Among these are some movies that the viewers would never get tired of, as Carolina Theatre puts down the same titles on its survey slip every year. They are “the Great Stories” described by the Booker-Prize-winning writer Arundhati Roy:

“The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t.”

And it’s not just the movies. The entire theater experience has been synchronized to help the audience go back in time. For instance, as you are sitting in the theatre to watch “Cat’s Eye,” the opening screen would read, “Tonight is April 12, 1985. It’s the opening night of 'Cat’s Eye' across the country. The following motion pictures are coming soon to a theatre near you.” The trailers that follow are the ones you would see had you sat in a movie theater on April 12, 1985. Maybe some people do go there just to watch the movie. But some are there to be reminded of the sweetness and saltiness of the buttered popcorn they were eating 20 years ago, the coldness of that Coke they were holding and the person they sat with through the movie at the time. The audience is there to get goosebumps at the exact same line, laugh at the exact same joke and cry at the exact same scene.

“We sell nostalgia,” Jim Carl said. “We really do.”

If 20 years is how long it takes for one generation to grow up, then the almost-20-year-old Retro Film Series has surely witnessed the history of one generation.

“We’ve had people come to the Retro who went on their first date at the Retro, fell in love, got married, have kids, and bring their kids to the Retro,” Jim Carl said. “I remember we’ve had some grandparents bringing their grandchildren to the Retro. Those kids are now grown up and in college and sometimes come back during their breaks.”

As young adults, we are constantly urged to look into the future. As Duke students, we are educated to actively shape the future. But it is also important to pause on our way sometimes and reflect on the past, the history and where we have come from. Only when combing the vertical experience of the past with the horizontal experience of the present can we be better informed to walk into full maturity.

Besides, in 20 years, we will be the ones bringing our kids to the Retro Film Series. That's how it works. What we consider as new today will always be replaced by the newer. The new is transient, and only becomes eternal when it becomes the retro.