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The business woes and public virtue of independent cinema
A look back at a not-so-great summer for two good local indy theaters.
By most accounts, it wasn’t a great summer for independent cinema and art houses in Kitsap County.
Financial scrupulousness aside, mainstream blockbusters and an economic era primed for escapism flooded the media and the mega-plexes, leaving a trickle of fickle support at the county’s two independent film houses — the Lynwood Theatre on Bainbridge and the Orchard Theater in Port Orchard.
But even with low box office numbers and reports in trade magazines of independent studios closing and bigger studios shutting down their independent arms, the sky is not falling and independent cinema is not on the brink of death. Especially not in an intimate community like Kitsap.
The chief reason why seems to be the independent theaters’ ability to get creative in their programming, matched with an increasing desire to be community specific and community involved.
“There’s always been that common line fed,” said Orchard Theater manager Mike Pitts, a man fairly new to the game but seemingly wise beyond his years. “Television was supposed to kill movies, then it was VHS is gonna kill movies, and then DVDs are gonna kill movies, plasma screens are gonna kill movies.”
But he, a movie theater manager for about 10 months, doesn’t see that happening.
Despite all the options out there these days for building home theaters, and despite all the entertainment alternatives like online movie rentals, DVRs and digital television, Pitts sees the benefits of the theater in its aesthetic of community.
The trick, for him and the Orchard, is proving to be bringing that community together.
“I don’t think it’s people in Port Orchard and the surrounding area not being educated about independent cinema, I think it’s more of them specifically knowing about our theater and coming to our theater,” Pitts said.
When the Orchard Theater opened in December 2007, it opened to the typical community excitement of a new amenity — an independent theater showing offbeat and just out of the mainstream features a few miles down the street from the town’s mega-plex, Academy Award winners like “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” on screen.
But into the spring and summer business quarters, as the newness and indy blockbusters wore off, the financial side of the Orchard began to cringe. So Pitts and crew began employing community-specific features, partnering thematic theatric classics with local events and other local business. They also invoked a late night B-movie series, programmed partly on patrons suggestions, which they’ve coined the Weekend Weird.
But their efforts have been met with mixed results.
“It’s fun, but a lot of times we lose our ass trying to figure this stuff out,” Pitts said. “It really just depends on what movie is playing.”
Regardless of turnout, the Orchard is beginning to find a niche in providing independent cinema for people who would otherwise have to travel to see it.
Thirty minutes to the north on Bainbridge Island, at the Orchard’s sister theater The Lynwood, manager TJ Faddis is figuring out a seasonal shift in their community as opposed to The Orchard’s seemingly feature-centric ebb and flow.
While the success of this summer’s mainstream blockbusters — like “The Dark Knight” becoming nearly the top-grossing movie of all time, during an era of economic recession — may have had an impact on The Lynwood’s lackluster summer customer base, after a few years behind the projector, Faddis has figured out the tendencies of her community.
“In the summertime, I know they’re always out gardening and they’re on vacation,” Faddis said. “But come fall, I’ll be seeing all those wonderful faces again.”
Of course, that sentiment doesn’t quite calm the nerves when the budget starts turning red.
Then again, independent theater has never really seemed to have a knack for making people feel comfortable -- on either side of the screen. While mainstream escapism provides moviegoers with an adventure away from their everyday life, featuring celebrities and explosions and comedy, independent cinema often makes moviegoers think more about their lives.
“I always call my patrons fellow seekers,” Faddis noted. “Seeking another perspective, seeking a basic truth about humanity or whatever ... when I go into a film, I’m seeking something new.”
Often what you’ll find in independent cinema quest isn’t usually comforting, Faddis noted. It isn’t always a happy ending, but more often than not, it’s going to make you think.
Given that thought, and knowing movie-goers desire for escapism, the Lynwood aims to provide a balance between thinker theater and more fun, light-hearted pieces along with special events like it’s monthly classics nights, silent films with live music and things like last month’s “Sound of Music” sing-a-long.
“I think there will always be a place for a community theater, as long as our independent theaters keep our arms open to the community through special events and family nights,” Faddis said.
“I think it’s because we’re into it, just plain and simply,” Pitts added. “We’re not being run by a corporate conglomerate, we’re run by a bunch of nerds that like movies.”
Info: For show times, tickets and more information on these movie geeks visit www.lynwoodtheatre.com or www.orchardtheater.com.