By Spencer Moon
Aug. 8, 2006 Atlanta's a tough audience for independent
theaters these days. Recently, we have seen the disappearance of
Cinefe 8 in Lithonia, the Lefont Plaza in midtown, and El Cine Mireles
- Cinefe 8 is currently closed, but their website promises
a return. (Owner Lee May did not return our calls in time for
may have also noticed that the venerated 50-year-old Lefont
Plaza Theatre in midtown has been mostly dark for over two
weeks. Owner George Lefont has sold Lefont Plaza, but he promises
that the new owner intends to reopen as an independent theater.
- El Cine Mireles, an independent theater for the Latin
American community, has closed after just one year.
Laura Mireles wanted to bring Latin American and Spanish-language
films to her Latino community. To that end she opened the El Cine
Mireles film theater in Marietta, Georgia. I spoke with Mireles
When did you decide to close the theater and what was the last
Mireles: June 16,
2006 was our last day of operations. We were open June 17, 2005
until June 16, 2006. I had problems with the building owners the
entire time that I was there. They sold the building and took me
to court to have me evicted. We reached an agreement, a settlement.
Part of the settlement was that I would have the opportunity to
negotiate a new lease with the new owners. However, the new owners
wanted to raise the rent by an additional $1,000 a month. They wanted
me to buy new furnaces for the building and do all the repair. I
felt like that wasn't an offer made in good faith. They really did
not want the Spanish language community there. They have no other
plans for the building. It is empty and exactly as it was when I
left it. The show times for films are still on the marquee. They
would rather have the building empty than have the Spanish language
What was the last film screened at the theater?
Mireles: The Omen 666 with
Spanish subtitles and Ice Age 2 dubbed in Spanish.
What was your attendance like?
The numbers were pretty dismal, pretty low. Part of the reason
for that was the location was not the best for the Latino community.
We did really well with special events, premiers, and special screenings.
It was really difficult because the bulk of the Latino community
is out in Gwinnett, in DeKalb, and the Buford Highway corridor.
They are also down in Smyrna in Marietta, but closer to the Square.
We do have Latinos out in Woodstock, Canton, and Kennesaw. The location
was not great because there is no public transportation there. For
people without cars, it cost a lot to take a taxi that far. The
attendance was kind of dismal, even though it was increasing every
What are you doing now?
I am actually in discussion with investors to open in another
location, doing the same thing but in a better location. The plan
is to open someplace closer to a large Latino community, somewhere
with access to public transportation. I have all my equipment in
storage right now. I'm just re-grouping basically.
One of the other things I'm doing is film exhibition in rural areas.
There are large Latino communities in rural areas throughout Georgia.
These communities have experienced considerable difficulty with
issues such as immigration, employment, racial profiling while driving,
and difficulty getting driver's licenses. Recently, some Mexicans
were killed in Houston, almost a year ago. Many immigrants can't
open bank accounts because they do not have social security numbers.
So as a result they carry large amounts of cash. This makes them
vulnerable to crime. So on August 19, 2006, I'm taking my equipment
to a community in Piston, Georgia. With the help of a local priest
I'm going to be showing two films; one for the children and one
for the adults. I'm still figuring out which titles based on what
I can negotiate with the distributors.
What was your biggest surprise as a novice film theater owner?
I had a big surprise everyday. There was always something.
I guess the biggest surprise was how friendly the large studios
are. Originally I used a booking service as most large movie theaters
do. I realized. I'm paying a lot of money to an agency to book the
films. I'm doing all my own research and booking the movies based
on that research. The booking agency was based in California. Why
pay them when I could do it myself? So I started doing that. I did
cold calls and introduced myself to distributors, and I was surprised
that they would work with me. It was fabulous. They were very cool.
That was my biggest surprise. I expected to be totally blown off
by the Hollywood distributors and I wasn't. That was my biggest
and most pleasant surprise.
What was your best experience; describe a special moment that
Mireles: Oh my god, there are
so many. Well, the community that I served, the Spanish speaking
community, many of them have not been into a movie since they have
been in this country. There a lot of children who came here as babies
or were born here. So they would walk in the door and then look
around with their mouths agape like they were in a museum. My theater
was very modest, it wasn't the Fox. But they would walk around saying
un cine, UN cine
," totally excited.
Everybody got candy. If people could not afford candy, I had suckers
that I gave to everybody, so they could get the most out of the
experience. But the kids would go down and sit in the front and
watch the movie from there. Then they would go all the way to the
back, and then they would try watching from the side because they
had never been to a movie before. They wanted to just absorb the
For me that kind of enjoyment was special, because people here
take going to the movies for granted. The movie-going experience
is not often enjoyed by the Spanish speaking community. To bring
that kind of joy and excitement to my community was awesome. I was
dirt poor and really struggling personally but it made it all worth
Do you think Atlanta can support independent film theaters?
Mireles: I definitely think
so because even though my theater was primarily a Spanish language
theater, a lot of people from Cobb County came to my theater for
independent film shows and midnight screenings. Those were independent
film screenings and we had great turnouts for those. Unfortunately
one of the problems I had with the building owners was that we did
not have heat. The building was freezing in the winter. We discontinued
those at the end of December because people were sitting there with
I think part of the challenge for independent theater owners is
that major chains have the big marketing machines that sell their
films. You have say, a great independent film, but who has heard
of it? Sure lots of people would love the film if they had heard
of it. But the only people who are going to come see it are people
who actually seek out independent cinema. The independent theaters
tend to be smaller than the larger film houses. The large Hollywood
film distributors have requirements regarding how long you have
to show a film to get it. It is difficult because you do not have
the budget to tie up your screen to a particular film like the larger
But I think it is possible. Once I open up my theater again, I
would like to hook up with the other independent theater owners
and do some collective advertising and marketing. The main problem
is marketing, just getting the word out there about what we have.
Atlanta is becoming a more culturally sophisticated city and I think
there is a market there. We just have to make what we have known
to people. I know that it will be better when I open in a better
Everyday when I run into to people they ask "When are you
going to re-open?" I've had taxi companies call me from Lawrenceville
and say when they tell people how much it costs to get to my theater
by taxi, people say they can't afford it. When I get into a better
location I'm going to be OK in the Latin American market, but I
also really love the independent film community and independent
films. I want to do that as well, through Midnight Indies or some
other scheduling where I can serve the art community .That is something
I really believe in and I enjoy independent film and giving them
a venue for their work.
Any parting comments for our readers?
Mireles: I cannot express enough
the response I got from the Latino community when I announced I
was closing. But what I did not expect was the overwhelming response
from the independent film lovers and makers in the area. They would
use my theater as a set. We had a crew come and use the theater
for the 48 Hour Film Festival. We had people come and do screen
tests here. The independent community felt like it was venue for
them and they were totally comfortable. They liked the Latino flavor
of it. It was overwhelming.
I really love the independent film community here. I really want
to be able to open up and support their work more. I'm really motivated
by their dedication to their craft.