"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

December 14, 2007

[UPDATED] And The Winner Is...

The Amherst Cinema Center?

Although it does not seem plausible at this point in the negotiations, word on the street is that not only has Amherst Cinema pulled way ahead of the pack in their (alleged) attempt to purchase the Pleasant St. Theater, but more notably, I hear whispers that Joe Blumenthal, owner of the building housing the Pleasant St. Theater would like to come to an agreement by the end of the month.

Well, I will not go to your new movie theater Amherst. Take that! That's not how these things work. We open satellites in your town, not the other way around. Please, step away from the theater.

No serious though, if it's a good fit -and on the surface it does seem like a very good fit- and they can make a good go of it, good luck, and I hope it works out. For whomever purchases it. If the intents and purposes of all these negotiations and discussions taking place is to create and maintain a vibrant movie house showing diverse films, everyone involved should work towards that end.

Kelsey Flynn, writing in her blog yesterday about the current troubles of the Pleasant St. Theater, noted,

I can't help but feel a little twinge of regret about our cinematic situation in 'Hamp. In 2003, I worked as a go-to gal for the Amherst Cinema Center project. Back then, the old drafty rundown cinema still stood. The office for the project was a constant fifty-two degrees which meant I typed with my gloves on and wore my parka all day. I couldn't help but feel a little smug about my town of Northampton and its two, count 'em two!, active movie theaters. And poor li'l Amherst didn't have any. Closest was Cinemark where the choices were Bruce Almighty or Starsky and Hutch.

Fast forward to today and our current plight. One movie theater left, shuttering its doors by month's end. Humble pie sure does taste bitter.
Funny, I've thought the same thing in years past. "Amherst," I would note when the topic came up, "I don't know, it's like a spin-off television series that never really had the same relevance as the original." Or my favorite, and one stolen from a pretty girl I know who commented on how confusing it must be for me when visiting Amherst. "It must be like the Twilight Zone for you, like Northampton, but backwards." Yes indeed.

Lets review some of the disparate groups looking to purchase our beloved Pleasant St Theater.

--From an email circulating, a group headed by Bruce and Rita Bleiman, and Silas and Linda Kopf are soliciting funds from the community, with an eye to making an offer.

--According to this article in the Gaz, Main St. Motion Media has submitted a proposal.

--Recently, a group of individuals, mostly consisting of employees of the theater, have let it be known that they have a desire to create a group that will attempt to re-birth the theater as a non-profit.

--And lastly, another group led by Duane Robinson, who for 30 years led the Academy of Music, are in active talks with Bob Lawton, theater owner, and Joe Bluementhal, the buildings owner, in an attempt to come to an agreement.

Their will be a meeting of the Northampton Arts Council next Tuesday, Dec. 18th at 7pm, in the second floor hearing room of City Hall. This topic will be discussed at length, and many parties involved in discussions to purchase the Pleasant St Theater have been invited to attend.

Just received over the transom from Kathleen Kamping, President of Main Street Motion Media. The email is rather lengthy, and is in three parts; a personal email to me, a copy of an email she sent Kelsey Flynn for blog fodder, and a copy of MSMM's proposal to Joe Blumenthal. In the emails, she makes a compelling case for ownership of the Pleasant St. Theater via Main St. Motion Media, and I have reprinted some highlights below. Kathleen has expressed frustration over the situation, as Joe Blumenthal has not responded to MSMM's proposals, nor has the local media made much mention of their efforts in this endeavor to take over the theater. Additionally, Kathleen is concerned about overtures made by other groups, particularly Amherst Cinema. As Kathleen tells it, Carol Johnson, president of the board of directors of Amherst Cinema Center, was at one point supportive of MSMM's active efforts to attain the theater, and offered the Board of Amherst Cinema Center's support to the efforts of MSMM. Because the emails are lengthy, I am leaving links in full to each email that Kathleen sent out, (the one to Kelsey, and the one to Joe) below. From the email to Kelsey,
...We could move in Dec. 24th and immediately begin operating since we have all box office systems, booker, deals with distribs, prints and shipping, e-commerce, credit-card, movie passes, and a loyal following based upon our success at the Academy of Music this summer.

And a firm commitment from Martin Miller at WFCR to help us do a capital campaign (although we would guarantee this without them) and be a "street level" partner in the new venture at Pleasant Street.

Bill Dwight, Andrew Crystal, Dan Crowley (Gazette) Bob and Julie Lawton, NIFF, Jack, the current cinema manager, and many, many others are aware of our intentions. It beats me why it remains such a mystery to so many people and a greater mystery as to why Joe won't even meet with us given our track record. Does he really want a Northampton-based non-profit to run films there?

And Carol Johnston? She knows as well. Despite me pointing out that we had been working on the plan for months...she went ahead anyway; and is currently working on a plan to show "small films" there. Bob Lawton will not donate the equipment to Amherst Cinema because of a serious falling out with their booker and a sense of abandonment by his own community because of Amherst Cinema's programming.

Here are some selections from Kathleen's proposal to Joe Blumenthal, dated November 17th, 2007.
Dear Joe,

RE: Pleasant Street Theater, Long-term Lease Proposal

...Julie and Bob Lawton are providing a non-profit film exhibitor with an opportunity to sustain the presentation of film arts in Northampton. This correspondence in addition to introducing you to Main Street Motion Media provides you with a context for what we proposed to them; with the proviso that we would be the cinema tenants on a long-term basis.

The most exciting part of our proposal is the new relationship we are developing with WFCR. Martin [ED.: Martin Miller, General Manager of WFCR] has told us he is interested in a partnership with Main Street Motion Media because of the kind of programming we are interested in and because of the risks we took on, and the success we had at the Academy of Music this past summer. WFCR would provide MSMM with additional infrastructure support in fundraising, advertising, and financing including an on-air capital campaign to restore the theater. Both organizations are looking to both program films but also to be engaged in audio and video technology as it applies to cultural expansion in the Valley. With WFCR as a partner, we plan to run an on-air capital fundraising campaign to renovate the theater as well as provide on-going program funding.

In addition to the above the following MSMM strengths are critical to the sustainability of a non-profit arts cinema in Northampton, MA.

2. We have all the infrastructure in place to operate the theatre immediately (i.e. Corporate bank (TDBanknorth), box office including all services for admissions and movie passes: credit cards, ecommerce, cash registers, email lists; volunteers; projectionist; booker (Adam Birnbaum); track record with distributors for payment and box office reporting; we can
get our Master License established quickly; have accounts with all print shippers).

6. Main Street Motion Media is local, their office located in Northampton MA, with access to grant funding on a national and state level and is familiar and sensitive to Northampton and the Valley audience.

8. Despite obscure titles, and only having Wednesday and Thursday nights available at the Academy of Music to run our 16-week film series this summer, we actually ended the season with a small surplus. Furthermore, box office admissions ran consistently ahead of Amherst cinema on those nights despite the fact our titles were less commercially viable.

10. Kathleen Kamping will personally guarantee the Year I lease, and extensions, until it's transferred to Main Street Motion Media.
Both emails are very compelling, and you can read the full email sent to Kelsey, here, and the full letter of MSMM's proposal to Joe Blumenthal, here.

LABELS: arts and culture, downtown, pleasant st theater