Independent for the people
Two new theaters fill niches and seats
Staff Writer & CinemATL Founder
Running a movie theater is not an easy task, with managerial decision,
organizing and scheduling in order to meet the demands of movie goers,
the movie theater business can be a daunting endeavor for one with no
prior experience to dive in. However, just this year, two new theaters
have plunged in the large pool and are striving to stay afloat under the
pressure of larger and heavily staffed multiplexes.
Cinefé 8 and El Cine Mireles, both independently operated, and their owners
are new and inexperienced when it comes down to the theater business.
|Owner Lee May stands outside Cinefé 8 in Lithonia.|
(photo: Eric Bomba-Ire)
Lee May, along with his wife Robin, are the owners of Atlanta's
newest African American owned and operated first run movie theater, Cinefé
8, in Lithonia—a cinema café. Lee decided to own a theater
about five years ago. Equipped with a business background and experience
in corporate America, but meager knowledge of an industry he has never
dealt with before, he started doing his groundwork
"I started by researching the industry and what it would take to
start up a movie theater," May says. "I started putting together
a plan for it and started taking steps towards business ownership of a
movie theater. So I just translated the business experience I had and
the understanding of business principles and I put together the plan to
For Laura Mireles, an ex-PTA volunteer and personnel coordinator for
the Braves in 1991-92, wanting to give access to the Latin American and
Spanish-speaking community is what drove her to open El Cine Mireles in
Marietta. The movie theater screens Latin American films with English
subtitles and American films with Spanish subtitles.
"I had no experience in this business," she says. "So
where I lacked experience I made up with research.
"I spoke with theater owners, I spoke with independent theater owners,
I spoke with theater owners out west who ran Spanish-language movie theaters.
I spoke with the distributors of film and I just really did a lot of research
on what it takes to run a theater: 'Where do the films come from? How
do you pay the studios?'"
Doing the required research and acquiring the theater is a small part
of running a cinema. The larger part is the marketing and the planning
and the scheduling.
|El Cine Mireles owner Laura Mireles. (photo: Eric Bomba-Ire)|
May connected with his general manager Larry Williams, a veteran in movie
theater business with over 13 years of operational experience—from a
doorman all the way to a general manager.
"He has what it takes [and] he knows everything that's involved
in terms of running a theater operation. He has the real hands on experience,"
May says of Williams.
Mireles, on the other hand, had to prioritize between handling the day-to-day
maintenance of her establishment and the managerial decisions to be taken.
On top of these problems, Cinefé 8 and El Cine Mireles also have
to compete with the 16- and 22-screen theaters at the multiplex, so they
often find themselves implementing other strategies to generate revenue.
Opening their establishment to other events not necessarily related to
movies is a way to stay in business.
El Cine Mireles has an Xbox in one of the screening rooms with wireless
remotes and Cinefé 8 is also a café, providing innovative
food and drinks to its clients. Both have been catering to the needs of
the growing local independent film community.
"I invite independent filmmakers to come and screen their works,"
Mireles says. "They pay a hundred dollars just to cover and then
they're responsible for promoting the event. We put the link to their
website on our website and they responsible for bringing in the crowd
and they get 35% of the box office receipt. So they are able to see their
work on the big screen. They're also able to make money from their
"One of the big things that we're doing is encouraging different
groups to have their events here. But also we want to utilize independent
film to grow the business, because there is a big market for independent
film here," May notes. "So we're hooking up with a lot
of independent filmmakers and festivals to bring different films here.
"That allows filmmakers to get some exposure and they're going
to push people to come out to see their films. Where? At our theaters.
So it's a dual thing we see better attendance because more people
come in and they get more people to see their films."
Even tough these theaters are slowly making their way into this industry,
they are ambitious endeavors from people who are very community oriented—and it shows in their interaction with their clients and the environment
May is a minister and his dad is a pastor.
|The cafe area at Cinefé 8. (photo: Eric Bomba-Ire)|
"I've grown up in the community. But also I have done a lot
of grass roots kind of things," he says. "I worked on campaigns
where we reached out to the community for health care initiatives, we
did voter registration campaigns. Last year we registered 30,000 people
for the presidential elections. So I naturally know a lot of people in
For Mireles, the influence of her activist family, and in particular
her uncles, really impacted her character towards the community.
"My uncles were some of the first Mexican Americans to go to college
in Wisconsin," she says. "They were extremely active in the civil
rights movement and after going to college, they pretty much got
jobs as social workers, nurses and other careers that give back
to the community. They could have used their degrees to really get rich
themselves, instead they chose careers that were rewarding in other ways.
And a lot of them volunteered for things and I think that when I lived
up in Wisconsin in my early adult life, I was so influenced by that."
With prospects of competing and being special theaters with a different
approach from the larger multiplexes—and amidst the daily problems that
occur for these young entrepreneurs—they are still aiming toward
staying for the long haul and expanding their business.
"Based on our business model, this theater can support five times what
we've done. So in two years I think we can get very close to that," May
says. "And in two years I hope to be working on my second theater somewhere
in the metro Atlanta area. We want to be an established entity within
the independent film market here in Atlanta and be the place to go to
see a quality independent film."
As for Mireles, even though she'd like to expand to satisfy her
customers who drive from as far away as Bethlehem, Forrest Park, Jonesboro and Dalton,
she'll ultimately like to bridge a gap and create awareness about
the Latin American culture through films.
"The great thing is that we get white high school kids from areas
where the community isn't as receptive to the growing Latino population
and yet the younger people are coming here now to see the films and they
are loving it," she says. "So I feel like I am trying to bridge
the gap between these communities."
Find more about these new theaters and their programming:
Cinefé 8 @ www.cinefe.com and El Cine Mireles @ www.elcinemireles.com
Charles Judson is a local screen & comic book writer and a regular contributor and film critic for cinemATL. Eric Bomba-Ire is the founder of cinemATL.