Develop more diversity! Cinemas reach out to underserved communities


In addition to becoming economic drivers, as last month’s lesson concluded, movie theatres are foremost social-gathering places. From the very first storefront parlors and nickelodeons, cinemas have brought, and still bring, communities together for a shared experience. While this is obviously not a new trend and something that we have addressed in our other annual overviews, the “Class of 2012” displayed a definite interest in bringing all kinds of films closer to different audiences. And for more than one of the people involved in doing so, it was a dream come true.

After four years of planning and construction, Pitch Perfect and Paranormal Activity 4 were the first bookings for the Nunpa Theatre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Kyle, South Dakota. Soon after, as Keloland Television’s report confirmed, there were several sellouts for the final chapter in the Twilight Saga. As Linette Ironcrow posted to Facebook on Nov. 30: “awe man…no new movies this week? :( thats okay, i will go watch rise of the guardian, n maybe breaking dawn for the 4th time, lol” (

A long-held dream of a family of local movie lovers who just didn’t want to have to travel some 35 and 90 miles to the otherwise closest theatres, the cinema became a reality with help from a low-interest loan by the state’s Office of Economic Development. “If it’s a full movie theatre, then a lot of people are clapping and hollering,” Angel Reddest, co-owner of Nunpa Theatre with her mother, Mona Patton, enthuses in the video. “I always wanted to start a movie theatre because I love movies. I go to movies a lot and I see a lot of Native American people at the movies and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.” Now that Reddest has built it, they are coming. “We’ve had a lot of grandmas bringing in their grandkids, a lot of couples enjoying a date, a lot of families coming as a family.” To she added that the 300-seat digital twin (“nunpa” means “two” in Lakota) will offer a much-needed source of entertainment on the 4,000-square-mile reservation (103,600 sq. km). “Besides entertainment,” the article noted, “the theatre will bring another thing lacking on the reservation: jobs.”

A similar boost to the local community of Newark, the largest city in New Jersey, was the result of another hometowner’s dream. “Opening a state-of-the-art movie theatre in the city I come from is a dream come true,” basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal said during the Sept. 14 ribbon cutting at CityPlex12. “We wanted Newarkers and residents in Essex County to have a place to see the latest movies in the most comfortable setting with the best projection and sound available, and I think the result speaks for itself.” Also in attendance were O’Neal’s co-owners of Boraie Development and Mayor Cory A. Booker, as well as numerous representatives from municipal and state agencies and financial backers. The 2,320-seat cinema had opened in time for the July 4 holiday and, adding much fun to the festivities, the subsequent series of eight free family films attracted almost 10,000 children and adults.

Calling the fully redone and newly expanded (to 45,000 sq.ft./4,180 sq. m.) site of the six-screen Loews Newark (from 1993 to 2003 aka Newark Metroplex and Newark Screens on Springfield Avenue) a “premier entertainment centre,” officials further lauded its “urban success story.” Councilman Darrin S. Sharif was “even more charged up and excited about what I call ‘parallel’ economic development in our neighborhoods. CityPlex12 Newark is part of the economic rebirth of a part of the Springfield Avenue commercial corridor that once provided a rich and diverse variety of goods, services and entertainment. With the redevelopment…Newark residents and residents from the surrounding area can enjoy a world-class movie theatre that is second to none in quality, comfort and technological excellence.”

Part of that top tech are Barco 4K digital projection, Dolby 7.1 sound, RealD 3D and the SHAQ*DX, providing “z bigger than life Digital-Xperience” on a 47-foot-wide screen. “This 300-seat auditorium has luxurious leather lounge chairs paired with state-of-the-art sound and projection—all ‘SHAQ’-sized,” Robert McCall, principal at JKR Partners, the architects and designers of the project, tells FJI. “This stadium conversion, renovation and addition emphasizes the theatre’s version of an upscale, digitally and sound-enhanced moviegoing experience.” As for his favorite aspect, “the modern appearance of the completely remodeled lobby with the accented green concession stand, along with the full-height storefront system, allows visibility from afar.”

In addition to “designing a hometown theatre for the City of Newark,” JKR Partners was equally involved with enhancing, if not jump-starting, the heartbeat of downtown Hartford, Connecticut. Whereas the Central Ward of Newark might have seen better days, the mid-November opening of the four-screen, 772-seat Spotlight Theatre marked “the first time in more than 40 years that the downtown area of Hartford has a movie theatre.” The local CBS affiliate station reported, “After almost 10 years and three developers, the first commercial enterprise in the Front Street complex opened.”

As a “new theatre fit-out in an existing new shell,” McCall confirms that Spotlight Theatres and its Front Street Bistro are indeed an “anchor for a new mixed-use retail entertainment district. The main project goal was to integrate a theatre and restaurant into one cohesive environment for moviegoers and diners alike, but also to provide an independent experience for those wishing to dine only or those just wanting go to and see a movie. The upscale finishes and sophisticated aesthetics complement the fine dining and sleek bar environment.” Discussing the “sleek, sophisticated and diverse” restaurant “offering upscale food at reasonable prices and a happy-hour scene that is already causing a buzz,” the food expert of The Hartford Courant set the scene further. “Huge glass windows on two sides of the restaurant offer diners and those at the bar a close view of the Front Street area and the boulevard where city traffic and the science center, convention center and insurance buildings provide a cityscape that makes you feel as though you are right in the middle of the best the city offers. Décor is beige and black, simple, clean and modern, with the restaurant and bar separated from the movie theatre operation by the main foyer.” And the very center of that operation is equally on view for all to admire. JKR Partners created what McCall describes as “the open jewel box highlighting the theatre’s digital equipment with a glowing ceiling and floor that are visible from the main promenade.”

Combining entertainment and dining is also key to creating the community connection at MIST (short for “My Image Studios”) Harlem. Located on the ground floor of a 250-unit condominium development on 116th Street near Lenox Avenue in New York City, the 20,000-sq.-ft. (1,858 sq. m.) venue could quite literally become what the owners described as “Harlem’s ‘living room’ where old Harlem and new Harlem can socialize.” Despite having “undergone steep growth in the past dozen years,” the launch release also pointed out that “the historic neighborhood remains underserved by restaurants and entertainment.” With its 130 seats for wining and dining (named Harvist) and three “intimate” theatres of 164 and two times 92 seats, MIST was designed “to capitalize on the pent-up demand.” According to its management team, they will present “the best film, live music, spoken word, comedy and plays from black and Latino culture throughout the world.”

The late-November launch qualified MIST Harlem as “the country’s first minority-owned entertainment center to consist of a multiplex cinema, live performance venue and restaurant combined.” (Like CityPlex12 and the LEED Gold-certified condominiums above, MIST was financed by the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group.) “[This] is the culmination of a 20-year dream to create a venue to feature the culture of the entire African and Latino Diaspora,” Roland Laird, CEO and co-owner of the venue’s operating firm My Image Studios LLC, said at the time. “Without question, the most enthusiasm has come from the film industry, particularly independent filmmakers. My partners and I made a significant investment in one 4K digital-cinema projector and two 2K digital-cinema projectors upgradable to 4K, as well as top-quality sound equipment,” he assured. In addition to Christie’s CP 4220 and 2210 projectors and JBL speakers (8320 surround, 4722 screen) and subwoofers (4641), there are E-Vision WXGA 7000 projectors for the sidewalk and glass wall in the bar area. MIST will present art-house and indie films as well as Hollywood titles that feature black and Latino actors or were made by black or Latino directors.

Further south, in Manhattan’s Midtown East, the legendary Florence Gould Hall has been hosting all things French—film, theatre and culture, learning—for almost 25 years. In mid-September, the French Institute/Alliance Française reopened its “jewel-box” theatre after a full reworking to the tune of $600,000 that had begun in June. “Renovating Florence Gould Hall has been a dream of mine for years,” admitted FIAF’s president Marie-Monique Steckel. “Now through the generous support of Florence Gould Foundation and key members of our board, the public can enjoy all the exciting cultural events we have in store this season in great comfort.”

Already “known for its pure and balanced acoustics,” as press notes trumpeted, nowadays guests are treated to “plush, new ergonomic seating from renowned French manufacturers Quinette Gallay, as well as added legroom and improved sightlines.” In the process, capacity was reduced to 361 from some 400 seats originally, and the color scheme taken to a rich red velvet from a somewhat more orange-hued velour. The “European styling” of the “elegantly transformed space” included fresh paints and “luxurious” new carpeting. To improve overall circulation, the auditorium doors were relocated to the center, creating “a grand entrance with a dramatic overall perspective.” All the while, a new cross aisle provides “unobstructed views from handicapped-accessible seating areas.” Last but certainly not least, technical upgrades brought improved sound and lighting, and digital-cinema capabilities, of course.

Designed for variable use, all acoustical measurements were redone in the process, FIAF’s technical director Philip Naudé told FJI during a private tour. 35mm Simplex projection equipment will remain in place, he said, assuring programming flexibility. The new NEC iS8-2K DLP Cinema projector is backed by Dolby’s d-cinema server (complementing the Dolby CP650 cinema processor for 5.1 surround) with additional input possibilities of Blu-ray or DVD 1080P playback (HD-CAM SR, HD-CAM and Digi-BETA upon request). The booth also features Christie’s DWU670-E (1-Chip) DLP HD projector and an NEC Nighthawk XT5000 video beamer. The lobby stairwell leading to Florence Gould Hall has an NEC NP4100 projecting a 5 by 8-foot XGA resolution image at 6,000 lumens. The brightly lit re-opening attraction on the big screen inside was short films from Isabella Rossellini’s “Green Porno” series, followed by “Cinema Tuesdays” celebrating “Brigitte Bardot, Femme Fatale” and “Young French Directors.” At press time, FIAF’s fabulous film calendar presents a retrospective of Leos Carax, with the writer-director in attendance. Holy Motors, indeed.

Speaking of calendars, we close our Diversity Class with a nod to (recent) history. It’s a good thing that Maya Cinemas and its chief executive officer, Moctesuma “Mocte” Esparza, believe in the future of moviegoing and did not pay attention to the end-of-the-world prognostications of the Mayan calendar. With the company motto promising “Mystery-Magic-Myth-Movies” to its guests, they signed a 20-year deal (five plus three five-year extensions) for the former Brenden Theatres 16-plex in Pittsburg, Calif. on August 20. The completely renovated and digitized 54,760-sq.-ft. (5,087 sq. m.) complex had just reopened one week earlier.

In their official announcement of the deal, real estate brokerage Transwestern lauded Maya Cinemas for “developing a chain of megaplex movie theatres, focused on providing high-quality moviegoing experiences in new and redevelopment market areas…in particular, Latino-centric, family-oriented communities in underserved urban and rural areas.” The fact that Maya Cinemas offers “first-run Hollywood movies and Spanish-language films, with an emphasis on state-of-the-art technology and superior customer service” certainly qualified Century Plaza 16 for our focus on diversified communities.
But Pittsburg is also exemplary for additional “Class of 2012” trends, including the revitalization of older cinema facilities, economic impact and technology excellence. Thanks to David Nelson, the Pittsburg City Journal blogger, we have a first-rate moviegoer’s perspective of what Maya Cinemas 16 means to the community. Under the headline “…And What a Treat It Is,” Nelson writes, “If you haven’t attended our ‘brand new’ movie center…you’re in for a delightful experience.” He also gives due credit to the “old” Brenden cinema, “which gave us such pleasure, leading to this new generation of local entertainment.” The “personal eyewitness” account of his first visit to the cinema covers everything from “no problem with parking” before approaching “the beautifully refurbished and festive outside” and entering “a wide open lobby,” to enjoying “huge decorative medallions inlaid to great effect” into the floor. For Nelson, another integral part of “a very attractive presentation to the eye” was “a large snack counter and the usual array of goodies for sale.” Moviegoers on Yelp, who were all as generally smitten by their experiences, also noted the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines and the special toppings. Francisco Z. and his kids gave “5 Stars for sure they have tapatio for your popcorn HECK yea!!!”

“There was a surprisingly large staff, ready to assist and guide—extremely courteous, cheerful and helpful,” Nelson continues about his visit. “They really rolled out the welcome mat.” In another post, he also called “all the employment opportunities they are creating for our fine young folks” exactly what they are” “A HUGE BONUS.” His observation upon leaving also noted a grim new reality. “On departure, we were surprised and sobered by the very visible presence of numerous armed guards—a sad sign of the times, but an indication of the alertness of the management, who seemed to have thought of everything.” And that included coming technologies.

In an e-mail, Pittsburg assistant manager Joe Madrid told Nelson that the capabilities of auditoriums #1 and #2 (“28 surround speakers along the walls and ceiling…powered by 20 amplifiers, when the usual set-up is around five to eight amplifiers,” along with one Christie Duo set-up and Master Image 3D) are all “due to the fact that it was designed by our president and COO [Frank Haffar]. He has an extraordinary imagination that he brings to the table in designing each and every theatre.” (Another lesson to be learned from our classmates in Pittsburg is to give one’s people on the ground the opportunity to connect and communicate.)

On Nov. 14, Maya Cinemas unveiled their Dolby Atmos installation to the media. “They remain tireless in trying to maximize the value of our entertainment dollars and experiences there,” Nelson attested emphatically. “We’re all going to experience NEW SOUND SENSATIONS only available to 20 other movie theaters IN THE WORLD—and only five movie theaters IN CALIFORNIA!! … All because of Maya corporate foresight and a great new breakthrough innovation from Dolby.”

In his note to FJI, Madrid enthuses, “We really LOVE the ATMOS system!” and hopes to get the platform into additional auditoriums beyond the beta set-up. “We have four houses with MasterImage 3D along with silver screens to enhance the viewing experience. All of our projectors are Christie…we are using Doremi servers, with Crown amplifiers and Dolby 750 processors for 7.1 surround, playing through JBL speakers in every house.”

In summary on Yelp, David Nelson issues a glowing report card. “I am so happy to have them here in Pittsburg! They truly bend over backwards to insure that we have a wonderful experience—EVERY TIME. They clearly strive to keep up with the state of the art in new advances in ‘Cinematic Science.’ They pay attention to every detail. My wife and I have been there quite often. We are always greeted with great courtesy and made to feel welcome. And the young staffs are mighty happy people—and that’s totally contagious. It certainly isn’t just another movie theater. It is becoming a ‘crown jewel’ here, in my humble but confident opinion. I am certain everyone else will feel the same way—if they don’t already.”

As with the other entries in our ninth annual survey, this is selective and personal and in no way lays claim to being comprehensive. If you have any 2012 projects for consideration, please send the information to the author.