Fans Celebrate Cult Classic TV Series ‘Twin Peaks’

By Alyson Wong

B-A-L-B-O-A in large all caps letters trimmed in red neon lights runs perpendicular in the middle of the Balboa Street thoroughfare between 37th and 38th avenues. Underneath, a classic white film marquee reads “Twin Peaks Fest Sold Out” in industrial black letters. The bustle of afternoon patrons generates a buzz of palpable excitement.

The Balboa Theatre, a well-loved mainstay of San Francisco’s Outer Richmond District, opened almost a century ago, on Feb. 27, 1926. After navigating the ebbs and flows of changing film distribution patterns, competition and ownership, the mini-multiplex continues to feature eclectic independent cinema with a mix of Hollywood blockbusters and special engagements, like the second annual “Twin Peaks” Fest held on Nov. 6.

The Balboa Theater marquee shines bright on the night of the sold-out “Twin Peaks” Fest featuring a panel discussion with actors Sheryl Lee and Dana Ashbrook. Photo by Kevin Kelleher and Emily Trinh/Kemily Visuals.

For the uninitiated, this “Twin Peaks” is not associated with the two summits at the heart of San Francisco offering great views of the Bay Area. It is the title of the surrealist American television serial drama created by Mark Frost and David Lynch. The show takes place in the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington, and follows an investigation into the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer, played by Sheryl Lee.

The show aired in 1990 for two seasons and then returned for a third season in 2017. Despite the short-lived filmography, “Twin Peaks” boasts a cult following and fandom ranging from hard-core film lovers to the casual viewer. The show tackles heavy subjects with a distinctive otherworldliness that sets it apart as a cultural landmark three decades later.

The half-day Twin Peaks Fest commenced on Sunday, with select “Twin Peaks” television episodes showing on the theater’s two screens until late evening. Patrons perused show-inspired art from local vendors stationed in the lobby and enjoyed themed coffee and cherry pie at the concessions, along with the typical movie theater mainstays.

Balboa Theatre crew (L-R): Tyler Butler, Clean, Adam Bergeron (owner) and Harry Nordlinger following the “Twin Peaks” Fest on Sunday evening, Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Kevin Kelleher and Emily Trinh/Kemily Visuals.

A special screening of the 1992 prequel film, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” was followed by a Q&A session, and a meet and greet with actors Sheryl Lee and Dana Ashbrook. Spirits continued to remain high into the night with a “Twin Peaks” drag performance and costume contest closing out the evening.

A packed Balboa Theatre reacts to a drag show and costume contest hosted by Media Meltdown during the “Twin Peaks” Fest. Photo by Kevin Kelleher and Emily Trinh/Kemily Visuals.

Self-professed film lover Adam Bergeron has run CinemaSF’s Balboa Theatre for the last 12 years with his wife Jaimi. He additionally co-owns the Pacific Heights Vogue Theater and Inner Richmond’s 4-Star Theater on Clement Street, which was scheduled to re-open Dec. 1. Bergeron reflects that “people have been hugely supportive all through this time” and credits Chloe Ginnever, CinemaSF Director of Operations and Programmer, as the mastermind behind this popular festival engagement.

“I’m thankful for neighbor support. It’s really special since it’s hard for theaters to hang on, so it’s very much appreciated,” Ginnever said. She goes on to recall that the first Twin Peaks Fest was “such a hit” and decided to bring it back because it “seemed like a fun thing to do.”

Ginnever calls the Balboa Theatre home after having worked at several movie theaters prior. And as the pandemic continues, she noted that “first run movies used to be guaranteed to sell out. Now I need to be strategic about programming.” Ginnever expressed that she’s “curious to see what the audience wants at the 4-Star.”

About a hundred patrons, many fully decked out in creative “Twin Peaks”-themed garb and cosplay, walked through the theater doors that day. Like a portal through time, the softly lit lobby blanketed in the aroma of warm buttered popcorn housed working vintage arcade games in one corner, an antique bumper car from Playland at the Beach along with other memorabilia near the entrance and painted cardboard cutouts of “Twin Peaks” characters leading up to the theaters. Angelo Badalamenti’s “Twin Peaks” theme song also played gently in the background.

Rose Owens dons a custom blue leather jacket hand painted with acress Sheryl Lee’s “Twin Peaks” character, Laura Palmer, on the back. Photo by Alyson Wong.

Dedicated fans Vinnie Guidera and Christin Carlano oversaw a prop table in the lobby decked out with unique items from the show, including the broken rowing machine of eye patch-wearing character Nadine Hurley. The two met at the Washington “Twin Peaks” film fest and have been David Lynch fans for years. San Francisco native Kathy Trinh dressed up as character Shelly Johnson in a robin egg blue waitress outfit to participate in the drag show costume contest later that night. She woke up at 6 a.m. to drive up from Los Angeles for the event. Trinh said she had a lot of fun “meeting people and being a part of something special. I love the Balboa Theatre so much. I grew up going here. My family lives across the street.”

Fans lined up and waited late into the evening to connect with actors Sheryl Lee and Dana Ashbrook during a meet and greet and autograph signing after the film screening. A fan wearing a shirt with Laura Palmer’s character on the front chats with Sheryl Lee. Photo by Alyson Wong.

The actor Q&A session with Lee, who plays Laura Palmer, and Ashbrook, who plays Bobby Briggs, captivated the fully packed theater and was a main draw. In the meet and greet that followed, many patient fans waited their turns to chat with the actors into the night.

Stars of the series “Twin Peaks,” Dana Ashbrook and Sheryl Lee. Photo by Kevin Kelleher and Emily Trinh/Kemily Visuals.

“The biggest thing that I learned from David, which I continue to be a student of, is staying present in the moment,” Lee said. Lee said she sees a community connection in the overwhelming appreciation from fans years after the show went off the air.

“We all collaborate in it together. I’m not separate from you in the telling of this story.”

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