Last month, I wrote an article about the Trail Theater and how its owners have failed to deliver on a promise to reopen it.
Some feathers were ruffled and, in the end, those running it broke their silence to address the slowdown and plans for the future (they gave an unspecified date with the idea it will run as both a movie and live theater venue).
I was glad they did, and even though I remain skeptical of its execution, it was an issue that needed to be addressed beyond whispers of “Is it ever going to open?”
It’s a point I’m seeing a lot of in the past week when it comes to local cinema: You have to speak out in support of something or watch what you’re passionate about whither away.
Another example: Last week, I was talking to someone about the “Downton Abbey” movie.
They were worried it wouldn’t come to St. Joseph, so they called the Regal Hollywood Theater, where staff said that it was out of their hands and they would need to contact corporate headquarters en masse to make sure it gets booked.
This past weekend, the movie, based on the PBS show, did come to St. Joseph. It ended up cleaning up at the U.S. box office, beating out a big-budget Brad Pitt space movie and the assumed final “Rambo” installment. In short, the people spoke out and they won.
Atchison, Kansas, went five years without a movie theater, due to its sole movie house, the Fox Theater, remaining vacant and a few chances to revive it falling through. But the citizens of the city of about 10,000 people wanted to bring it back for both historical purposes and to avoid having to drive to St. Joseph or Kansas City to see a movie.
The live theatre group Theatre Atchison started a cinema restoration project, purchased the property and spearheaded a campaign of more than $1 million to bring it up it to modern movie theater standards. Earlier this year, it opened and continues to run several first-run movies.
In Kansas City, the Tivoli Theater, the city’s oldest independent theater, abruptly closed in April. The outpouring of disappointment that it was shuttering and support for its efforts to promote and screen independent film for decades came like a torrent. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City recognized that giant swath of support and importance to the area, and last week it was announced that with the support of donors, it would serve as its new home.
When it comes to the movies in St. Joseph, it’s easy to feel defeated. We watched the number of theaters dwindle down to one for a population of 76,000 people — the same as significantly smaller cities like Maryville and Atchison. When people tried to hold on to the second-run cinema Plaza 8 Theater with a groundswell of support, the result was the property getting bulldozed. But it also wasn’t the public’s choice to make. Its owners, Screenland, had moved on and wanted to close it.
Those mentioned victories for smaller theaters are nice reminders that if there’s enough vocal and monetary support in St. Joseph and people willing to do the work, we can follow those examples and open new venues for entertainment. The question is whether or not we’re willing to make it happen.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live