The article will have you believe the theater - owned by the city and operated by Dipson Theatres - is a victim of the need for theaters to convert to digital projection. This is partly true: movie studios are ceasing to make film prints of new releases available to theaters around the world. This is a cost saving measure, and makes good business sense; why make prints, and pay to have them canned, shipped and preserved, when most Hollywood films are being shot digitally anyway? The article details the costs involved, and explains that even if the city decided to spend the money to replace the projectors at MAFAC with the new digital models, the theater needs far more money for renovation (stadium seating, screens capable of 3D, etc.). The cost involved in making this multiplex "viable" is impractical because of the real culprit here: Buffalo apathy.
Buffalo is a strange city, because a segment of its population is as passionate about the arts as the rest of the citizens are about sports and consuming alcohol. There's a real dichotomy here: we want to portray ourselves as an "arts" community, but we're basically a blue collar town that squanders numerous opportunities to rise above dipping our hands into the peanut jars at our local taverns. Worse, there's a perception that downtown Buffalo - where our theatre district is, for God's sake - is a cauldron of dangerous criminal activity.
I worked for Dipson as a theater manager for three years. It's a chain that moved into art house fare before I moved here almost eleven years ago, when Regal and AMC invaded the community with their ugly state of the art multiplexes. Earlier this year, the North Park Theatre, our last single screen theater and a real landmark for film lovers, closed its doors. This leaves the Amherst (three screens) and the Eastern Hills Cinemas (also three screens) as our last theaters devoted to independent, art and "specialized" fare (there is also the Screening Room, which is even more specialized and shows a lot of films new indie films and retro classics).
MAFAC was never an art house, it showed the best and worst commercial films. It also hosted Bruce Jackson's popular film seminar series. It was the first theater I ever worked at here, and I have an affinity for it because its decor is still modeled after the Angelika Film Centre in Manhattan, which I also managed for a time. The gleaming wood floors in the lobby, the cafe tables off to the side of the concession stand, and the chandelier are all holdovers from the year when the Angelika chain operated the theater and quickly pulled out. (Side note: the Angelika was a stand alone theater in NYC until the family that owned it sold it off in the wake of a bitter divorce; the chain that bought it ran it into the ground and launched a chain of Angelikas; nothing spells indie success like having a chain spoil everything that makes a venue special in the first place).
As a manager at the Amherst, I encountered the strange Fear of Downtown Buffalo Syndrome. The Amherst is located at 3500 Main Street, across the street from the UB South Campus, on the border of Buffalo and Amherst. MAFAC is located at 639 Main Street, a ten minute drive or subway ride away. Customers at the Amherst would look at the poster cases in the lobby and say to me, "When are you going to get THIS movie?" Puzzled, I would answer, "We aren't, but it's playing at the Market Arcade right now." The response was almost always the same: "Oh, I never go downtown." Heaven forbid! To be fair, MAFAC has no parking on weekdays before 5 pm, which is why it rarely shows movies before then. After 5 pm, the M&T Bank lot is available to theater patrons, and the theater validates the parking fees. It's a very simple process. (The North Park also had no parking facility).
I held the premiere for SLIME CITY MASSACRE at MAFAC, and a SLIME CITY/SCM benefit double feature for a boy with leukemia, and recently held the premieres for DRY BONES and THE LEGEND OF SIX FINGERS there. In each instance, we had a decent crowd, but never filled the auditorium to capacity, and we might have if we'd gone to the burbs. Last year, we held the third edition of Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival there. Our plan was to show our city off, to hold our event in the heart of the city, near restaurants and bars, surrounded by our amazing architecture...and getting anyone to attend proved a Herculean task. Aside from a personnel issue, the low attendance was a major reason why we decided to scrap the festival and start a new one, Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival. We didn't return to MAFAC, we learned our lesson.
MAFAC is an independent theater. It's owned by the city, which means it's owned by each one of us. People will say they miss MAFAC when it's gone, but I bet few of the mourners ever did anything to support it during its years of operation. Soon we'll be one of the few cities our size to have no movie theater in our city proper, while the parking lots at the Regal theaters will be filled to capacity. Can you imagine Curtain Up, our annual celebration of the new theatre season, with the MAFAC dark and abandoned in the center of the activities?
That's so Buffalo.