Cinefest is still not living up to its potential

What is Cinefest?

Cinefest is a dull, pointless husk of what it used to be.  Forgive me for the acrimonious opening, but I expect a great deal of students who’ve attended Georgia State since 2013 or years before will agree.

For those who don’t know what Cinefest is, it’s the school’s student-run movie theater.  You can find it on campus in Student Center West, suite 262.  It can also be identified by its meager neon sign which sadly overlooks Decatur St., just beside the Courtland St. overpass.

Founded in 1991, Cinefest was, from its inception, designed to show films that student employees selected, including, “cult classics, foreign films, documentaries, independent films and Atlanta premieres,” according to its home page.

It also attracted “premiers of international hits and film festivals not commonly seen outside specialty art house theaters,” according to an earlier article by The Signal.

Today, it shows none of those things.  What does it show?  Whatever’s premiering in monopolistic mega-theaters like Regal and AMC.  That means Cinefest premiered Fast and Furious’ millionth sequel, only they did it a few weeks too late.

To some of you, that might not sound like such a bad thing.  You might like the idea of getting to see the latest blockbuster for free simply because you’re a student, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But that’s exactly what Spotlight was banking on when they made changes to Cinefest last year.

Spotlight’s ill-advised changes

The Spotlight Programs Board is a student organization sponsored by the university that hosts events like the “Distinguished Speaker Series, Panther Prowls, Homecoming festivities, the Courtyard Music Series, Campus MovieFest, Georgia State Nights at local Atlanta attractions and the Pantherpalooza spring concert,” according to their home page.

Last year, they reduced Cinefest’s days of operation from seven days a week to three.  Now, the theater is only open for eight hours (1-9) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

They only show one movie during those three days, and only have time to play it four times a day.  That means that the only student-run movie theater in the metro Atlanta area played “Unfriended” twelve times and called it a week.  Embarrassing.

The Signal article explained these changes are an attempt to save money in lieu of low ticket sales, but that the then-employees of Cinefest said “the decisions aren’t being made by students but by people who don’t have a vested interest in the future of the theater.”

Of course, Cinefest had been functioning more or less the same for more than twenty years, so what went wrong?  Did attendance really suddenly drop?

Also, why wouldn’t Spotlight administrators have interest in the future of the theater?  It’s hard to find any reason why members of an organization dedicated to “providing social, cultural, educational and entertainment events on campus” would disdain a resource so integral to their cause.

Perhaps it’s just a fundamental disagreement about how Cinefest’s space can best be used.  On one hand, it can be a haven for independent films to be premiered and share, and on the other hand, it can be a place where large titles can be showcased to a broader interest.

The problem is, both of these alternatives have been attempted, and neither one functions desirably. This past year, we’ve witnessed the latter attempt to make up for the former and fail.

It seemed that even early on in the reinvention process, Spotlight was grasping for new ideas, going so far as to suggest the space be used for poetry reading and open mic nights.

But something everyone can agree on is that Cinefest is not very visible on campus.  Many incoming freshmen don’t have any idea that Cinefest even exists until they stumble upon it on their way through the Student Center.

The visibility has been a recognized issue in the past, and Cinefest has even set up “huge seven-foot stands” around campus advertising the theater, to little effect.

I’ll now venture to suggest a few changes of my own.

Other changes that might be made

The neon sign overlooking Decatur St. is small and easy to miss.  It is, in fact, the only outdoor indication that Cinefest exists, apart from its mention on directory posters.

Giving Cinefest more of a presence on the sidewalk of Decatur St. would remedy this.  Installing back-lit poster boxes would give people the impression that there was a theater inside.

It would also help the theater’s traffic immensely to get people wandering in off the street, even if they’re not students.  I’m sure more than a few people would be willing to fork over the requisite 5 dollars for general admission, especially when they’d otherwise pay twice as much to see a blockbuster at Regal or AMC.

And showing these blockbuster movies is fine, as long as they don’t homogenize what’s supposed to be a heterogenous theater showing a wide range of productions.  One Hollywood money machine can be good for the theater as long as the staff doesn’t lose sight of what the theater was originally intended for.

It would also help if Cinefest could partner more with Campus MovieFest, allowing them to use the theater space for their end-of-competition screening of their contest’s finalists.

Of course, it would take someone with more ingenuity and knowledge of the inner workings of Spotlight and Cinefest than I have to come up with other, viable solutions, but I’ve offered my four ha’pennies.

I’d really hate to see Cinefest go, but it seems like it’s a real possibility considering its disuse.  Perhaps incoming students and other cinema-minded people will see the what Cinefest is lacking and dare to improve it.  I hope they do.