Gold Town Nickelodeon's days may be numbered

Independent theater struggling to stay afloat

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2003

After bringing independent films to Juneau for five years, the Gold Town Nickelodeon movie theater has fallen on hard times and may not recover.

"The last couple of months we have just been hammered," said manager Lisle Hebert. "It's been pretty bony ... We've had a lot of films with a lot less attendance."

Hebert says he's put in too many volunteer hours trying to keep the art movie house running for a paltry few paying movie-goers. He has called a public "brainstorming" meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday, at the Gold Town, where he hopes local film enthusiasts might have suggestions for how to save Juneau's only independent movie theater.

"It seems like Juneau is too small of a town for an art house theater as a commercial business," Hebert said.

Hebert originally opened the theater to show "Gold Town," a half-hour film he made about Juneau's history, to tourists in the summer. When that plan proved less profitable than he hoped, he began showing art films and business picked up a bit.

"There was a pretty solid local following," he said.

A year ago, the theater began showing art films and documentaries exclusively every weekend. Business has never been great, but over the last three months it became abysmal, he explained.

Hebert blames the slowdown on the fact Juneau has so many arts activities to choose from, and a limited number of people who are interested in the arts.

"There are too many activities for too few people," he said. "There is only so much room in a town like Juneau - if the audience gets split up, it's suicide."

The Gold Town has direct competition from the Silverbow, which shows old movies once a week, and Gross Alaska, the company that owns Juneau's two larger movie theaters. This year, Gross Alaska has offered more art movies. This hamstrings the Gold Town in two ways: It dilutes the art movie audience, and when the movie theaters compete for limited copies of movies, the larger theater wins, restricting Gold Town's selections to more obscure titles, Hebert said.

"People need to realize that if they want a service like this, they can't expect blockbuster films because we can't get them," Hebert said. He added that in general, Gross Alaska has been very supportive of his operation. He also said that a combination of factors has led to the decline in business.

Hebert suggested one solution would be for a film society or a motivated individual to take over the Gold Town.

"It would take somebody young, who loves the movies, knows something about them and doesn't have the overhead of a family," Hebert said. "I haven't found anybody like that yet."

Sybil Davis, the director of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, is confident local film enthusiasts will find a solution for the Gold Town.

"There is a strong cadre of cinema enthusiasts in Juneau that like documentaries, award-winning short films, animation, and movies about world cultures," Davis said. "You are not going to get a consistent audience for those kinds of films at the commercial movie houses, and I do feel that there is enough of a market for an art movie house."

Davis added that Juneau has a burgeoning community of independent filmmakers, and that perhaps someone in that community might step up to the task. "We have a lot of creative minds and we will have excellent options to choose from in how we want to structure and organize this very viable downtown theater space," she said.

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.



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