If I Were a Rich Man

BEST-SELLING WRITER James Patterson recently established a million-dollar fund to support independent bookstores amid the current publishing industry crisis. Patterson is showing both generosity of spirit and humility before the audience that made him rich, not to mention an ethical commitment to the community-building impact and personal pleasures of smaller bookshops.

I think his open-minded and visionary idea should be translated to independent theaters too. The experience of entering shopping mall multiplexes to be seated in a shoebox and watch 25 minutes of advertisements before the same film that’s screening at every other multiplex does not resonate with the poetics of the art. And I mean that literally—beautiful cinema does not belong in an ugly industrial container. I mean “belong” literally too—if art is about belonging, about the idea of finding a home for our idea of ourselves, then it would make more sense to screen movies in environments that invite a sense of home, not evoke battery farms.

If James Patterson were to set up another million-dollar fund devoted to independent movie theaters, I’d be happy to help him spend it. I’d upgrade projection, audio, and lighting so that as much attention can be paid to how a film looks as to how paintings are hung in a gallery or music played in a concert. I’d make the seats comfortable for average-sized human beings. I’d give grants to community groups who want to refurbish their dilapidated downtown theater as a venue for the common good. I’d screen films that invite social change. I’d develop new distribution networks that challenge the dominance of the military-industrial-entertainment complex—offering the rights to screen films in exchange for an ethical fee or a gift in-kind. I’d have potlucks at 5:30 p.m. and movies at 6:30 p.m. so there’s enough time afterward to write poetry together or march on the capitol.

I’d make the experience of cinema interactive rather than transactional: Watch Jaws and discuss our role in the destruction of the marine ecosystem; see Jesus of Montreal and invite meditation on what a life incarnating love would look like if you were letting it live through you; let The Great Beauty lead to a conversation about where we can’t see the beautiful wood for the trees; give a couple of hours to Singin’ in the Rain and let’s dance!

James Patterson has pioneered something beautiful in the world of books and will be remembered for it. I wonder if there’s anyone out there who has made enough money from the movies to do the same for independent theaters? 

Gareth Higgins is a northern Irish writer based in North Carolina. His book Cinematic States: America in 50 Movies is available from www.cinematicstates.com.

Image: bag of popcorn, golden film can, and cinema tickets, Claudia Paulussen / Shutterstock.com

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