Photo: A DJ provides tunes for the opening night of Akron Film+Pixel at Nightlight Cinema. Photos by Rob Vaughn.
For years, Akron Film+Pixel showed cutting-edge films in pop-up events around the city – 20 a year on average - filling a void in the one of the largest communities in the country without an indie cinema. The group built a following, and now has its own space to house them: a new 50-seat theater called the Nightlight Cinema, showing two films nightly to often sold out crowds since opening in Downtown on July 1.
Helping to bring the early crowds was an opening night with a nod to one of the city’s own, a screening of award-winning filmmaker and Akron-native Jim Jarmusch’s’s vampire romance “Only Lovers Left Alive.” The Nightlight space is a draw too. In building the cinema, with support from Knight, Executive Director Steve Felix aimed to create a place that not just holds an audience but builds a community. The theater offers both stadium and café-style seating, snacks and a bar. Felix pipes in music between shows, to encourage people to come early and stay awhile after to discuss the screening.
With a few weeks under the theater’s belt, it seemed time to sit down with Felix, 32, and talk about the new enterprise’s history, goals and his hopes for film in Akron.
: Now that the theater has successfully opened, can you talk a little about what you were striving for with the theater? What goals were you trying to fulfill?
: We were trying to build community around filmmaking. People are spread out in this area. There’s no real community where they can feel part of something bigger and have peers. It’s not just for film fans, but also those who take media seriously a little bit. We had a film festival once a year, but thought it would be more impactful if [films were] spread out so that someone could do something on impulse. We had an event once a year, but that was hard to finance, so we wanted to create a revenue model of ongoing film presentations.
Steve Felix, executive director, Akron Film+PIxel, seated in The Nightlight Cinema.
We also had measured attendance but are changing that. We are now measuring how many stick around after shows and talk, socialize [in order to show the sense of community]. The theater then becomes more than just coming and leaving. It’s a destination.
Durbin: Tell me about how you got to open a theater. How did that come about?
Felix: We are a presentation organization. At first we had partner venues with the Akron Art Museum, the library and Summit Artspace. They were so game for partnership that it worked. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here. We put on 130 events since 2007, that we didn’t develop in the best way. We did one off events. We wanted to be a consistently available source that wasn’t being served elsewhere…. A few years later we were getting consistent attention at the Akron Art Museum [where they presented classic films with discussions afterward] and were developing a reputation and it seemed the right moment to take a big step.
Durbin: Then you started looking for financing to fund the project?
Felix: We had naturally looked at Knight Foundation because of its progressive ideas about building community. It was clearly the transformative part that allowed us to proceed. They gave us $120,000 which was the capital money and enough to get going. We ended up adding $40,000.
Durbin: How did you decide on this location once you had the funds?
Felix: We looked at a lot of locations but liked being close the Akron Art Museum, the library, and downtown in general. In our city planning philosophy, it’s one of the few walkable areas of the city. It’s the historical arts area also and there are good restaurants around.
Durbin: Did you choose a summer opening then?
Felix: We wanted to open as soon as possible, as soon as we were confident we could do it. I am happy with a summer opening. It’s movie season.
Roger Durbin is a freelance writer in Akron