Cinematic Style Thrives at Art Theatre

  • 04/08/2014
  • Reporters Desk

By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

For me, the 90s was a golden age. I discovered foreign films at the Art Theatre of Long Beach.

The theater contained an odd charm. The seats were torn and the ceiling tiles had a habit of falling on your head. Frequently, there may have only been a handful of brave souls seeking solace in the deserted auditorium. But no matter, you had the satisfaction of spending time in an historic art deco theater watching the finest films on the silver screen.

During those days the Art Theatre was primarily sustained by the midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Rocky Horror show allowed tenacious theater owner Howard Linn to keep the marquee lights shining on 4th Street. Linn was devoted to the theater and to fine film.

Today, the old marquee is shining brighter than ever.

In 2008, a new group of visionaries restored the theater. 4th Street pioneer Kerstin Kansteiner and her husband Jan van Dijs renovated the theater along with the help of other investors.

A sharp focus on art films brings the promise of many years of fine film in Long Beach.

“Our mission is to keep [the Art Theatre] alive,” Kansteiner said. “We are the oldest single-screen theater in Long Beach.”

A re-organization of the lovingly restored theater has led to making the theater a nonprofit. Van Dijs served as president of the board and is a local architect. Kansteiner, who serves as secretary of the board,  also owns Portfolio Coffee House and Berlin Café.

“By programming cinema that has a relevance to the community; we can meet our non-profit mission,” Kansteiner said

The six members of the board are all volunteers. All profits from the theater are placed back into the operation to ensure that the Art Theatre remains in business. A goal of the nonprofit is to pay off the bill for the $65,000 digital projector that is required for all theaters these days. The theater’s membership program serves as a fundraiser and provides members with free admission to its popular live Oscar party.

This new business model has attracted attention from the film industry.

Recently, the theater was invited by the Long Beach-based Cambodia Town Film Festival to host the U.S. premier of the Oscar-nominated film, The Missing Picture. Nominated for Best Foreign film, the movie artfully re-tells the tragedy of the Cambodian genocide during the years of dictator Pol Pot and the killing fields, where an estimated 2 million Cambodians were slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge.

The Missing Picture’s director, Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, appeared at the Art Theatre to discuss the film that earned his home country its first Oscar nomination.

In the film, the director recreates his own memories of this unfortunate period in his country’s history. The director incorporated the unusual medium of elaborate diorama-style scenes from his childhood by populating it with hundreds of small, hand-made figurines, crudely painted to represent victims of the war.

“It was a great honor for us to host the U.S. theatrical release of the Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Film,” van Dijs said. “We strive to always recognize the diversity of our city and to show films that spotlight cultures and values of the people who represent them.

Recently, the Art Theatre screened all of the 2013 Oscar-nominated short films, including Documentary Short Films, Animated Short Films and Live Action Short Films, demonstrating a dedication to cinema rarely found in the world of multiplex theaters and blockbuster movies.

The Art Theatre of Long Beach is proving that cinephiles no longer need to trek to Santa Monica, downtown Los Angeles or Irvine to see current art films.

A quarterly film series, titled “At 11,” was also created and programmed to comprehensively address the needs of the diverse communities that exist in and around Long Beach. Due to contractual obligations, first run films must be shown during peak audience hours. In order to circumvent these obligations and still serve the tastes of their audience the theater has scheduled the 11 a.m. series.

“We came up with the film series so we can feature films that we did not have a chance to show, that are of community-based interest,” Kansteiner said. “We made a relationship with the Long Beach Opera, with the Long Beach Symphony and the Surfrider Foundation. Nonprofit organizations can contact us and tell us they have a movie they would like to show. An example is the film Inequality For All. We were contacted by a professor from Cal State Long Beach who said ‘I would like for my students to see this.’ We agreed to show it at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning and show it at a student rate.”

Classic films, music films, motorcycle movies. The series caters to almost any taste.

For years, The Art Theatre has been neighbors with The Center Long Beach, the historic epicenter of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in town. It stands to reason that, as a part of the “At 11” series, the theater would screen gay advocate Dan Savage’s HUMP! Film Festival. Since 2005, the erotic film series has presented ordinary people in their own 5-minute amateur porn films. Also on the film series schedule is Brokeback Mountain, an opera telecast.

Coming full circle and adhering to their rich history, The Long Beach Art Theatre still screens a midnight showing on Saturday of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Nearly four decades after its premiere, it is the longest-running theatrical release in film history. The film still has a cult following and is one of the best known and financially successful “midnight” movies of all time.

Venue: Art Theatre of Long Beach
Location: 2025 E. 4th St., Long Beach

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