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The little movie theater that could

Story by Chris Graham

This is the first year probably ever that I’ve even seen one of the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, much less three of them.
For that I can thank Adam Greenbaum.
I first met Adam a few years ago when he had this wild idea to buy a decaying old movie theater in Downtown Staunton and fix it up with the notion in mind of showing the kinds of films that don’t make it to the mall or the cineplex.
It only cost him a few hundred thousand dollars and a few years of his time, but the feel-good part of this story is that he’s surprised everybody not named Adam Greenbaum by making Visulite Cinemas work.
“It always struck me early on – when the whole Visulite idea was an embryo. I was living in New York, and I had friends all over the country, and I would say, You have to see this movie, you have to see that movie. And I was always disheartened when people would say, I hadn’t even heard of that movie, it’s not even playing here. And not only in small towns, but in small- and medium-sized cities,” Greenbaum said in an interview for today’s “Augusta Free Press Show.”

“It always struck me that there was this attitude that people out in the country didn’t want to see these great movies, that it wasn’t worth giving them the opportunity. And that the big chain theaters that have pretty much come to dominate the theater market were pretty much deciding who got to see what. That sparked the underdog in me. And when I found Staunton, and saw this is just a terrific place for the arts and all that, it seemed like the perfect environment to do this,” Greenbaum said.

So that was the concept. But not even film distributors believed in what Greenbaum was trying to do. Some still aren’t too sure how he’s doing it.
“I think it’s to some degree surprised the distributors, who three or four years ago, Staunton wasn’t on the map at all for these types of movies, and now they really don’t know how to compare us. There’s no kind of similar market,” Greenbaum said.

Watching the Academy Awards Sunday night, I wondered to myself how Greenbaum is able to do what he does – not just business-wise, but more specifically, how he is able to get so many quality off-the-beaten-path films to Staunton. I mean, the very fact that films like “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” and “Juno” are off the beaten path has to make it hard to get a hold of them.

Greenbaum has a method to his madness – and it’s not nearly as mad as you might assume.
“Sometimes we do get to screen them. I was able to see ‘Juno’ back in November, for example, and ‘Atonement’ as well,” Greenbaum said. “A lot of the movies I don’t get to screen, so it’s a combination of reading the advance press on these movies, and the good thing is that one of the benefits to being in a small market is that these films open in big markets like New York and L.A. significantly earlier than we can open them, so we get a good opportunity to read reviews on them.

“Additionally, our film booker, who is really terrific, usually does get to see everything. So we can rely to a good degree on his opinion on the film, having seen it early.”

Another issue with his movies being harder to find – “A lot of the films we show don’t come with big national ad campaigns, they don’t come with a huge marketing budget,” Greenbaum said. “So a lot of people haven’t necessarily heard of a lot of the films. So we have to rely to a great degree on our reputation – so that people will come to see a movie even if they haven’t seen ads for it or heard about it.”
“I’m so grateful that we have a core audience of people who will come out just to see what we’re showing – even if they haven’t necessarily heard a great deal about the film,” Greenbaum said.

That includes me, little ol’ happy-to-have-seen-some-pretty-darn-good-movies-this-year me.
Oh, and the butter on the popcorn ain’t bad, either.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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