I have continued my correspondence with several independent cinemas around the globe and have had some truly remarkable conversations. I wanted to share some more with you. For the most part I am overwhelmed with the courage and passion from the owners & managers of these cinemas, who are doing their best to keep independent cinemas alive, and film shown purely for the love of it.
I have started a Facebook page for the Global Association of Independent Theaters, an organization I have started to allow independent cinemas all over the world to start talking to each other, to find out what is working for other theaters, and to ask for help if need be. I am also adding several theaters – with lots more to come – to Out of Print’s website, so that where ever you may be in the world, hopefully you can find an independent cinema not too far away from you!
While I have been getting several positive and reassuring emails from theaters that are chugging along, some – as in my previous post – are heartbreaking. The first comes from Neil Merryweather from the now closed Regal Cinema – Melton Mowbray – Leicestershire.. He writes:
“Firstly, let me thank you for contacting us. I wish you all the best with your fight to keep 35mm going.
Unfortunately due to the death of my father and economic pressures in the town, we’ve decided to close.
Another reason we closed was the enormous costs we were incurring – largely because of digital projection. I’m unsure of the operating systems in the USA but here, for example, a new lamp costs over £1000 for about six months life. Ridiculous. Surely the studios should either contribute financially or reduce their percentages.
Our cinema was built in 1934 and is currently empty. We left a perfectly good, 40-year-old 35mm projector in situ for them. The only problem they will have is finding someone to operate/ service it – no easy task in a small market town.”
Next comes from Tim O’Brien from the Vassar Theatre in Michigan. He writes:
” I’ve owned the Vassar Theatre for 22 years and have also owned several other theatres in that time. The Vassar was distressed when I acquired it, and over a thirteen year period from 1992 – 2005 I completely restored the theatre to its former art-deco glory. We’re a first-run theatre in a rural Michigan market with a very poor economy.
Although business is marginal at best, I’m committed to keeping this theatre alive as it’s been my life. The impending D-day may be the death knell, however. I’ve been denied financing on the digital equipment and can’t see how we’re going to be able to make this stretch, short of an appeal to the community for help. As a “for-profit” business (that’s never made a profit), I’m uncomfortable with this.
I’m not against digital and readily acknowledge its many benefits. It has ruined this business, however, and made it very difficult for independents to survive, much less embrace new opportunities. Even if a small theatre can absorb the costs for the conversion, the business model is forever changed as the evolving technology will require ever greater investment with no end in sight.
The independents are squeezed on one side by our multiplex competitors whose digital equipment has been subsidized by the distributors, and on the other side by the non-profits who it seems need only pass a hat to collect public and private funds from many sources.
Alas, I fear the Vassar Theatre will become a statistic as one of many left behind in this brave new world.”
On the flip side of the coin, I have received a few emails from folks who – needless to say – I felt it was best NOT to respond to. Everyone is welcome to their opinion, of course, but the thought of these folks running movie theaters makes me sad; when there are so many people who would give anything to run a cinema.
The first comes from Andrew Mungo of the Screening Room in Massachusetts:
” I am not a cynic but I truly feel that the 35mm issue raging is a non-starter. The technology is on the way out. That’s that. Think of the environment. Almost every 35mm print has always become toxic waste. There is no room to store every 35mm print ever made. Almost all must de destroyed and that has always been the case. Other technologies are better, cheaper, quieter, cooler, create less waste, the list goes on. I’m 63 years-old, have been running movies for 35 years. I welcome new tech. The only way to stay with 35mm is to do old stuff. Anybody younger than me who resists new tech is a premature fuddy-duddy. And out-of-touch.”
And finally, the coup de grace, Mr. Rui Pereira from the Kingsway Theater in Toronto, who sounds like a barrel of fun to work for.
“I desperately avoid terms like:
2. art house
4. love of film
5. 2nd run
7. community theatre
All of the above are terms used to diminish movie theatres and reduce history to nostalgia and memory to an amusement ride.
At the Kingsway I charge FULL price the same as our local 18 – plex. If anyone complains about the price I ask them to leave.
Our staff also wear uniforms and clean clothing – no hippies here or ‘film types’ – if you like films don’t open a movie theatre.”