COLUMBIA, 4/30/10 (Beat Byte) -- Succeeding as a small, arthouse cinema amidst AMC-sized theater chains isn't easy, so it may be no wonder local arthouse impresario and First Ward Columbia City Councilman Paul Sturtz (left, right) is in demand for good advice.
Hired as a theatrical booking agent for Spokane, Washington's Magic Lantern, an arthouse theater I frequented in my college days, Sturtz told Pacific Northwest Inlander magazine bringing in movies that aren't being shown anywhere else is key to a small cinema's survival.
But that's easier than it sounds, largely because the big chains try to "hit the broadest possible audience with a diverse swath of films, including money-making independent features," the Inlander reported.
"It is sometimes a bit difficult," Sturtz said. "AMC’s quite a competitor."
Bemoaning the Magic Lantern's inability to land some Sony Classics films, theater owner Joe Davis said Sturtz tried his best. "He told me that AMC had already booked every [single] Sony [Classics] film," Davis said.
Because distributors like Sony first go to the well-established chains, Sturtz explained, the hunt for hits gets eclectic, one reason Sturtz turned his clients on to Boondock Saints II: All Saints’ Day, a 2009 sequel to the 1999 Quentin Tarantino-esque cult hit, Boondock Saints.
Bingo! None of the theaters in Spokane were playing it. "We’re going to start it Thanksgiving Day," Sturtz reportedly told Davis. "It’s going to run really well, but the film stinks." Columbia's indie film guru was "right on both counts. The first day, the line at the Magic Lantern stretched out the door."
Sturtz, who said he books several different theaters, finds support for the Magic Lantern "just one-tenth of what I’m used to." The Ragtag regularly grosses 10 times more than the Magic Lantern, even though Columbia is roughly half the size of Spokane -- Washington State's second largest city.
But the Magic Lantern lacks a magic Columbia has in abundance -- college students. As home to only one university, 5,000-student Gonzaga University, Spokane -- an agricultural city far from other populated places -- simply doesn't have the student audience Columbia supports.