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Goodbye indies; goodbye Amp

October 1, 2009
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I returned from a long weekend of celebrating independent cinema in Birmingham to find out that The Amp was closing its doors. After nine months, the theater that has brought us numerous independent and foreign films and outstanding documentaries, was abruptly shut down by its corporate owner Nova Cinemas.
The news was like a sucker punch. Two days notice not only for the community but for the employees. And while I understand the economic aspect, the loss for all of us is far greater than the pinch on their wallets.
For those of us that are not content to settle for low brow cinema that caters only to mass appeal of generic situations and implausible comedy (I am talking to you Tyler Perry and Paul Blart: Mall Cop), losing the Amp is like losing a cherished friend that helped provoke thought and a wide range of emotions.
At the Amp I was able to see films on the big screen that would never have made it to Oxford otherwise including “The Wrestler,” “Ponyo,” “Food, Inc,” “Fanboys,” “500 Days of Summer,” “Adventureland,” “Poultreygeist,” “Pretty Ugly People,” “Night of The Loup Garou,” “Bjork: Voltaic,” “Christmas on Mars,” “Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart,”  and so many more.
The Amp also brought sing-along experiences with movies like “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and “Grease.” Dancing to the Time Warp at the outdoor theater was one of the greatest experiences I had with friends as was the world premiere of local director Micah Ginn’s film “Night of the Loup Garou” where the theater was sold out.
But sell outs were few and far between. Most often I was the only one in the theater or one of only a handful. While the food was wonderful – being able to eat real food while watching a movie is something the Malco should adopt immediately – there appeared to not be enough support in Oxford for the types of films shown at the theater.
I have spent many a weekend going from one movie at The Amp to another at Malco and I was always shocked how The Amp would be empty while Malco was packed. Was it just that Oxford audiences have to be there on opening weekend to see studio first-run films or is it that the Oxford audience just doesn’t care about independent film? What caused them to not embrace The Amp?
This year the theater also brought most of the Oscar nominated films – many of these films usually don’t make it to Oxford until DVD release. Sure, they brought them weeks after their national premieres, but they hadn’t been in Oxford until that point so why didn’t people line up to see those studio films?
My problem with the theory that there just wasn’t enough audience to sustain the theater is that I know there is a love of independent cinema in this town. The long lines and huge crowds at the Oxford Film Festival every year prove there is an audience. A full theater screening of the documentary “Food, Inc” a few weeks ago at The Amp shows that people are interested.
But, perhaps the communal once-a-year or occasional experience heightens attendance rather than having a consistent audience for indie fare.
In this rough economic climate the challenge for exhibitors is to keep afloat and if the only way to do that is to show “popcorn” films – then we will all suffer as a great many independent film passes us by. While Malco in Oxford may not be any closer to bringing indie films to us (although I know that they all would love to do if they could from my talks with them), Malco does have a few great theaters in Memphis that play indie films. Road trip, anyone? Sadly, even this film freak, will likely just wait for DVD.

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