Theaters Can Rise Again

 

A little less than ten years ago, a wildfire fire in my area destroyed several thousand acres of forest. The forest was unique because it was a completely isolated 13 mile belt of pine trees separated from its closest genetic relatives by more than a hundred miles. The pines made for a dramatic change of scenery along a state highway defined by scrubby oak, stunted cypress, and the occasional grove of pecan trees.

I’ve been driving that section of highway for years, and I have never gotten used to the change. At first, the difference was drastic. The hills that crowd the four lane highway, once dominated by these pines, looked like something out of a movie. A disaster area. The site of a meteor strike. Or something worse. The belt of towering trees had been reduced to a sea of stumps and piles of dessicated trunks.

I’ve seen a lot of conversations about the state of the movie business happening here at SAW. Will theaters come back? Is streaming the future of film? 

These are valid questions. The world has changed a lot to make room for our response to the pandemic. Movie theaters are just one among many examples of the collateral damage we’ve incurred in trying to fight Covid. It would be easy to look at the entertainment landscape and declare the theater experience dead. 

But it doesn’t have to be.

It’s been nearly 10 years since that forest fire. The stretch of highway no longer looks like the site of a nuclear blast. The sea of ashy grey has given way to a carpet of green pine saplings. They’re not quite the towering 90 foot giants that once stood in their place, but they’ll get there. It’s only a matter of time. 

I don’t deny that the situation is grim for theater chains. I don’t deny that streaming is a force to be reckoned with. People like convenience. But we are social creatures and the shared experience of sitting in a darkened theater with strangers is an embedded part of film culture. I don’t think that’s going away yet.

No one wants to go through difficult times. No one wants to lose their business or see others lose their businesses. But the truth is, some of the best art, ideas, and innovation are born out of adversity. 

The theater experience doesn’t have to die, but it probably needed to change. I’m not sure what shape that change will take as we dig out of this pandemic, but I know there are people out there who still care about the theater experience. I know those people have ideas. I know some of them are hungry enough and passionate enough to take the risk of trying those new ideas. 

Would it be so bad if more independent theaters sprang up in place of the conglomerate multiplexes? Would it be a tragedy if studios had to scale back the budgets of blockbuster genre films? Is it possible that such a change might allow the big studios to risk giving new filmmakers with new ideas more opportunities to innovate and potentially make new classics instead of constantly trying to reanimate the long-dead corpses of half century (and older) franchises?

Change is hard. Uncertainty is hard. But some of our most cherished movies are about change and hope in the face of uncertainty. Some of our most beloved films are about the underdog. The little guy. The nobodies. 

Hard times can’t last forever. We will find our way through to better times. In the meantime, I will be rooting for the little guys. For the underdogs. The ones whose names we’ve never heard. The ones with new ideas. With fresh perspectives. The ones who love film and are willing to take risks to preserve the experience and shepherd it into a new era. 

I’ll see you at the movies.

Author: Billy Dhalgren

“A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts.” -Andrei Tarkovsky