Akronites get their own Cedar Lee Theatre July 1. The art deco-style Nightlight Cinema and Lounge, the first strictly independent theater in Akron since the '80s, will screen indies and foreign movies alongside works by local filmmakers and animators six nights a week.
For five years, the Akron Art Museum and Akron Film and Pixel, the nonprofit behind the Nightlight, have been nurturing the art-house movie scene by hosting more than 130 events ranging from 48-hour filmmaking contests and video gaming seminars to monthly movies at the art museum and Akron's own film festival.
"When we started, our annual attendance was about 800 people," says Steve Felix, Akron Film executive director. "Last year, we were up to more than 2,000."
Thanks to a $120,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and a $12,000 Kickstarter campaign, Akron Film was able to hire an architect to turn an abandoned High Street band rehearsal spot into a one-screen, 50-seat theater and create a hub for surrounding film communities.
"There's a geographic gap where these films are shown," says Felix, who hopes to show films such as Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises and Akron native Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive.
A new media gallery will strengthen that local connection by showcasing a variety of local artwork and interactive video pieces. As will the full-size bar, which carries Hoppin' Frog Brewery craft beers and pastries, wraps and candies from Blue Door Cafe and Bakery and Cupcake Binge.
"Movies are just a small part of it," says Felix. "Being able to talk about it and expand on each others' understanding of the films makes it more enticing."