Darkside Cinema: Snubbing A Broken System

by Magdalen O’Reilly

The state of movie theatres today is enough to make the most positive writer cynical. For every person who takes a chance on a film outside the box, there are 100 people who will roll into chains like Carmike to see the next thing Micheal Bay excretes. And the most frustrating part about it is that most will complain the whole way. Do you know why you need to bring a blanket to the theatre because the air conditioning is always on full blast? Or why you’ll pay 10 dollars for popcorn and a drink? Or why you’ll spend money on a movie that is almost inevitably stupid? Because you still go. Multiplexes will always treat you this way because they know they can. And they also know if you want to pay a reasonable price, or avoid being searched like a criminal for contraband, you have to step outside the conventional film scene. And more so than anything, they know most people are not willing to do that.

Darkside Cinema is Corvallis’ locally owned independent theatre. When the term “independent theatre” gets thrown around, people can get nervous. Visions of barely comprehensible foreign movies, watched by elitist film snobs smoking cigarettes and telling you why your life is meaningless, because you’ve never seen Eraserhead. While these stereotypes float in the ether, the Darkside stands as a testament to what an independent theatre really is. But running a local theatre comes with a lot of risk.

Owner Paul Turner has been in the theatre business since he was 18 years old. Before he opened the Darkside on 4th street, he previously owned The Avalon in downtown. “Before Carmike came to town, Regal Cinemas had a friendly relationship.” Paul says. But once Carmike rolled into town, the atmosphere changed considerably. Everyone had to circle the wagons, and get ready for some serious competition.

In the movie business, a theatre must bid to get the top grossing movies on their screens. So large, corporate-run theatres like Carmike can afford to get first pick from the studios. “The mercenary bent of the multiplexes has become more severe.” he says. A few studios, like Sony Picture Classics, refuse to give first dibs to large chains like Carmike.  But regardless, this system still pushes smaller theatres out to the fringe. So in an effort to compete, Turner closed the single screen Avalon, and opened the multi-screen Darkside Cinema. He also rents out the theatre to groups wanting to watch a specific film. But the profit margin for independents like the Darkside are small, He’s not backed by a larger corporate entity, so he only makes a living when people buy a ticket. And Carmike’s monopoly of the new movies makes finding films people know about difficult.

But it’s not all bad. Being out on the edge has pushed Paul to seek out other films that fly under the radar of the chain cinemas. He goes to film festivals to find new and interesting movies that don’t have a venue yet. He’s also been able to run many popular animes like Paprika, Akira, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and other incredibly famous, well-loved films completely ignored by many chain cinemas. The Darkside will soon be playing Iron Sky, a film about Nazis from the dark side of the Moon who return to Earth in 2018, when Sarah Palin is president. It doesn’t get more awesome than that. So go see it, and take note of the very real difference in price, quality, and treatment. You’ll never look at a multiplex the same way again.

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