At the end of Empire Records, the wonderful weirdos and freaks and burnouts all answer the call for an epic party in order to raise money to save one of the last independent businesses in the neighborhood from becoming a soulless chain. It’s a bit of a dudes ex machina, but it works, because it’s joyous and chaotic and Rene Zellweger sings “Sugar High” in a short skirt.
The act of saving the Cape Ann Cinema may seem more mellow than that (unless Zellweger shows up to go screamo punk into a microphone), but it’s got the same spirit. It’s also a block party for the internet age where crowdfunding replaces the role of grandmas buying 5$ beers in red solo cups. It also involves a movie theater giveaway.
Rob Newton, the creative director and owner of the independent movie theater in Gloucester, Massachusetts, is betting big on social media to pull his cinema out of debt. He’s also hosting an essay contest to choose the next owner, so if you want to operate your own living room-esque movie theater in a seaside town on the east coast, sharpen your pencils and type “Why I Want To Own And Operate A Small Seaside Cinema” onto a title page. Actually, if you do that, I don’t know why you’d need the pencils. Scrap ‘em.
Submitting an essay requires a $99 entrance fee (so it’s structured a bit like a screenplay competition), and the winner gets $20,000 as well as majority ownership of the theater. Newton is hoping to use the IndieGoGo campaign to clear the company’s debts, pay back investment money to his staff and then set up the new owner with a feathered nest.
I can’t speak to the wisdom of entering a movie theater giveaway like this, or trying to take over a scrappy theater in Massachusetts, but you have to admire Newton’s spirit, and it sounds like an adventure. At a time when Age of Ultron is destroying megaplexes, Cape Ann Cinema is running Jody Lee Lipes’ documentary on the New York City Ballet Ballet 422, Anthony Powell’s nature doc Antarctica: A Year On Ice, and the new Noah Baumbach While We’re Young. I Am Big Bird starts next Sunday. This is obviously a place with a commitment to indie film.
If you needed more insight into Newton’s mindset and mission, here he is in his own words:
I have been in the movie business for nearly 30 years. I started out in high school as a clerk in a video store that I would later spend my college tuition purchasing. I became a full-time film critic and award-winning writer. I became a stand-up comic and made a novelty record and got it played on The Dr. Demento Show. I sold my largest video store to a national chain. And then I started showing movies… and making them. I have been fortunate to do what I love, and love what I do.
So if you’re willing to move to Gloucester, take on the risks of small business ownership and clean the oil trap in the popcorn machine, consider jotting down 250 words on the topic and trying your luck. You’ve got until June 30th.
If you don’t like Bostonian weather, consider chipping in to help them keep the doors open.