Regular moviegoers might think of holiday films as lighthearted animated features or celebrity-stacked rom-coms—ie nothing particularly thought-provoking or emotionally surprising.

If they look more closely at the movie listings (page 46), however, they'll find a few alternatives at local indie movie houses, such as the Center for Contemporary Arts Cinematheque and Santa Fe University of Art and Design's The Screen. According to CCA Cinematheque Manager Jesse Hockersmith, staff chooses these films with holiday viewing in mind, even though the apocalypse and the death penalty, for instance, don't meet the traditional blockbuster formula.

"We try to play indie films, thought-provoking films, foreign films, films you're not necessarily going to see at Regal [Stadium 14] or big theaters," Hockersmith says.

It doesn't always work. A Tribe Called Quest documentary Beats, Rhymes and Life, directed by Michael Rapaport, ran at UA DeVargas for a week, and then the distributor offered CCA a lower royalty fee to keep it going a little longer. A Tribe fan, Hockersmith leaned on cinema Director Jason Silverman to screen the film, but the turnout was low.

"It was an important film to screen," Hockersmith says. "Sometimes [moviegoer reception] is so unpredictable, even with outreach and email blasts. Long-term, it can sour the relationship between the distributor and us. It can influence what types of films they give to us."

On Thanksgiving weekend, CCA opened Melancholia, a patient and intense apocalyptic Lars von Trier film starting Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland, featuring sparse dialogue and painterly scenes supported by Wagnerian symphonies.

"We've played a few [Von Trier] films," Hockersmith said. "He's a controversial director, and there's always good discussion to be had with his work. We played Antichrist a year or two ago and had a really interesting response, but it was a pretty gritty, hard-to-watch film."

Originally scheduling the documentary Being Elmo (about the man behind the puppet) for earlier in November, Hockersmith and Silverman pushed it back a couple of weeks to feature it as the cinema's "family-oriented" holiday film.

Additional upcoming films include Eames: The Architect and the Painter, about the designers Charles and Ray Eames; Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss, a documentary about the death penalty; Everyday Sunshine, a documentary about the punk-funk band Fishbone; and Inni, a concert film featuring the Icelandic band Sigur Rós.

The Screen has scheduled Love Crime, about cut-throat politics; The Man Nobody Knew, a documentary about a son's search to understand his CIA-agent father; Blackthorn, starring Sam Shepard as Butch Cassidy; Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, about the hedonistic French musician; and a documentary about Jane Goodall.