A Cinematic Centennial: Celebrating 100 years of advocacy with Mid-Atlantic NATO’s Cinema Show & Tell

Cinemas Features

“Open the discussion in Vegas and close the deal in Springfield!” As put succinctly by executive director Doug Murdoch, that’s one mighty convincing reason to attend this year’s Cinema Show & Tell trade show, held by Mid-Atlantic NATO on Tuesday, May 9, and Wednesday, May 10, in Springfield, Virginia. In the six weeks between CinemaCon and Cinema Show & Tell, those who attended the week-long Vegas bash will be doing their best to catch up on sleep, catch up on work or (in Murdoch’s case) sort through “a stack of business cards.” But what if you realize you have some following up to do?

Enter Cinema Show & Tell, a more intimate CinemaCon counterpart for exhibition industry professionals throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. At CinemaCon, Murdoch explains, “I go around talking to people, and we’re in these huge ballrooms in this great big coliseum. We have the version that’s the corner of the ballroom! We have the mini-con.” And in this case, “mini” means more—more of a chance to chat with studio representatives, vendors and exhibition colleagues on a one-on-one basis.

“I always joke, we named it the Show & Tell—well, Tuesday is going to be our tell, and Wednesday will be devoted to the show,” chuckles Murdoch. What that means is that Tuesday will play host to Cinema Show & Tell’s educational components—like last year, held at the Waterford at Springfield event space—while Wednesday will take attendees off-site to the Regal Kingstowne Stadium 16 & RPX in Alexandria, Virginia. There, they’ll meet with representatives from (as of press time) in the neighborhood of eight studios, among them Sony Pictures, Focus Features, Warner Bros., Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate, STX Entertainment, Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox. “Then we’re going to be welcomed into the Regal RPX theatre for a Dolby Atmos presentation, followed by at least one of the studio presentations presented in Dolby Atmos,” says Murdoch.

The last two years, he explains, Wednesday was a half-day at Cinema Show & Tell, events wrapping up mid-day to make way for a golf tournament hosted by Variety the Children’s Charity of the National Capital Region. This year, that tournament will take place on Monday the 8th, giving Cinema Show & Tell attendees a full two days in which to catch up with colleagues, learn about new technology and upcoming releases and get up-to-date on various issues affecting the exhibition industry throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

It’s that final item that will take center stage on Tuesday. First up is a Mid-Atlantic NATO membership meeting and legislative update, attended by Virginia legislative advocate Chris Gill. Issues discussed are varied, explains Murdoch, “everything from predictable scheduling to minimum wage to paid sick time to ticket resale control, and many others.”

From there, things go national with a “State of the Industry” briefing by NATO’s state government and regional liaison Belinda Judson and director of membership David Binet. They will discuss, per Murdoch, “performance numbers and various issues that are hitting us all across the country, including the [national] legislative issues that may come home to us one day.”

From there, it’s on to issue-specific discussions, including one on “the new Department of Justice ruling on accessibility” by NATO government relations director Esther Baruh. Wynn Salisch from Casablanca Ventures will hold court on the myriad—and often confusing—issues surrounding credit card processing. And we’re not just talking payments and bank fees; per Salisch, the panel will educate guests on encryption and “how better to secure a theatre’s payments infrastructure to prevent costly breaches.” Rich Daughtridge, co-owner of Maryland-based Leitersburg Cinemas, will also conduct a “Measuring Cinema Marketing” presentation, which has as its subjects social media, digital media, event marketing and more.

If that seems like a lot, don’t worry! You do get a nice lunch in there, which, combined with Cinema Show & Tell’s trade show, gives vendors “the chance to talk about their products and services,” says Murdoch. “And then, that evening, we finally relax with our reception, followed by our annual scholarship banquet that everyone enjoys so much.” As was the case last year, around 20 employees of local theatres will receive a grand total of $35,000—though only Murdoch and the plaque engraver know how much each person will get until the dinner itself.

This year’s Cinema Show & Tell is a particularly special one, and not just to the lucky scholarship recipients. “One of the highlights of this year’s Mid-Atlantic NATO Cinema Show & Tell is that it will be a celebration of 100 years of advocacy,” says Murdoch. Though the show itself isn’t rocking a triple-digit birthday, the organization that would become Mid-Atlantic NATO was originally incorporated on March 8, 1917.

The genesis of Mid-Atlantic NATO is an interesting story, and one that involves an unexpected element. “The original name of the group that was incorporated was the Exhibitor’s League of Maryland,” says Murdoch, who pored through various archives to uncover the history of one of the nation’s longest continually running exhibition-advocacy groups. “Six months before it incorporated, exhibitors formed a league to basically fight the city of Baltimore and the Maryland Department of Health, which had issued an edict that no one under the age of 14 could attend movies. And the reason was the Department of Health was concerned about the spread of infantile paralysis plague, which is polio. At the time, there were almost 100 different theatres inside the Baltimore metropolitan market, and they formed a league. And that is what we believe was the genesis of the group that we now know as Mid-Atlantic NATO.”

The exhibition industry has changed a lot since 1917—certainly, polio is no longer quite so much of a concern—but one thing that’s unwavering is Mid-Atlantic NATO’s dedication to supporting a growing swath of theatre owners, managers and other professionals. While the Exhibitor’s League of Maryland confined itself to one state, Cinema Show & Tell attendees now hail from Virginia, Washington, DC and beyond. Notes Murdoch, “I’m already seeing people registering from New York and North Carolina,” in addition to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, all with (as of press time) a month still to go until the show officially kicks off.  He expects between 350 and 400 attendees, not counting tradeshow vendors, studio representatives, scholarship winners and their families and the like.

“I think one of the best things we have going for us this year is that we have a six-week gap between CinemaCon and our show, whereas last year was a little tighter, like two to three weeks,” argues Murdoch. “It’s always exciting to get together with everyone from the region as we expand our outgrowth.”