Audience fading for repertory movie theaters


On Thursday, when an estimated thousand people pack the Castro Theatre to see a 40-year-old movie - Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo & Juliet" - it will seem like classic repertory programming is alive and well in San Francisco. Olivia Hussey, the film's star, will be interviewed on stage. There will be photos snapped and autographs signed, and in all likelihood, one of those only-in-San-Francisco feelings will pervade the air.

But when it's all over, producer Marc Huestis - after three months of work leading up to the big night - will net only a modest profit. And that's if he's lucky.

For more than two decades, ever since the arrival of VHS tape, San Francisco exhibitors have been scrambling to find a business model that supports classic repertory programming. Exhibitors have devised and revised workable survival strategies, but time after time, those strategies have been undercut by new threats - such as the advent of DVD, Netflix and now downloadable movies. They've tried longer runs, shorter runs, themed festivals, celebrity guests, relatives of deceased celebrities, autograph signing parties and live entertainment, all to less and less effect. Some look ahead to digital projection as a possible panacea, but that's a few years away.

(Source: San Francisco Gate)

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