Cuts to Cinefest would be short sighted and foolish

If administrators with the Spotlight Programming Board succeed, Cinefest will soon see sweeping changes that could substantially hinder the way the student-run movie theater operates.

For more than 20 years, students have enjoyed the opportunity to view everything from recent box office hits to cult classics at the small but cozy theater tucked away in the University Center. Well regarded among the local film community, Cinefest also frequently attracts premiers of international hits and film festivals not commonly seen outside specialty art house theaters.

But the top-down proposals brought forth earlier this year by Spotlight, which oversees Cinefest, could threaten that. In fact, staff at Cinefest warn the theater may be forced to lay off employees, reduce operational hours by more than half and completely close the theater’s concession stand as early as May, when the changes are set to go into effect.

Administrators say these proposed changes are to save costs due to low attendance and sales, but Cinefest employees say the decisions aren’t being made by students but by people who don’t have a vested interest in the future of the theater.

To increase weekday attendance, Spotlight has suggested replacing film screenings during the week with possible events like a “poetry night” or “open mic night” – as though students would rather hear readings from a Robert Frost book than watch a blockbuster flick like The Avengers.

To commuters, however, limiting Cinefest’s hours during the week would be the equivalent of shuttering the theater altogether since many students live hours away from school and are unlikely to make the drive just for a movie. Further, closing the concessions stand for the movie would remove one of the student-run theaters primary revenue sources, a short-sided move that could further limit Cinefest’s functionality down the road.

If attendance is as bad as Spotlight claims, something does need to be done. But the solution rests with better promotion and exposure and not draconian measures designed to limit days of operation and fundamentally alter Cinefest’s mission.

Sure, Cinefest already promotes itself online and posts its showtimes via social media, but outside of certain groups like film majors it’s not exactly well known on campus – perhaps due in part to its lack of a signage or a major marquee, staples of the commercial film industry.

It’s not that the neon sign facing Decatur St. looks bad, but that it’s small to see and easy to miss. In fact, it’s not difficult to imagine students walking directly below the sign for years and never knowing what’s above them. Another part of the problem is that the current sign is not descriptive of the movies currently playing or large enough to display showtimes for potential moviegoers.

A replacement sign (or two) seems like an obvious move here. Additional locations besides Decatur St. could include inside the Student Center or outside the University Center where hundreds of students walk across the bridge every day, greatly increasing student exposure even if it requires an up-front investment.

Because at the end of the day, closing down Cinefest during the week, except for special occasions that no one will attend anyway, is short sighted and misses the overall problem the theater faces: a lack of awareness among the student body.

Let’s hope Spotlight comes to their senses before it’s too late and we lose a treasured campus institution.


  1. There definitely needs to be more promotion of the theater’s wonderful offerings, both on campus and citywide. Since students get in for free, I can’t figure out why more of them aren’t filling the seats, unless all are simply addicted to watching movies on their computer screens now. I hope that isn’t the case; Cinefest is one of the best theaters in Atlanta. I hope GSU’s Spotlight committee comes around to seeing its value, and ultimately decides to leave it be.

  2. Dear The Signal and other misguided readers,

    Let me start with a quote from the article.
    “To increase weekday attendance, Spotlight has suggested replacing film screenings during the week with possible events like a “poetry night” or “open mic night” – as though students would rather hear readings from a Robert Frost book than watch a blockbuster flick like The Avengers.”

    This is very silly train of thought and an unfair comparison because it does not reflect the reality of the situation.
    Firstly, Cinefest generally shows the same movie (or same 2 movies) all day, all week long. Mixing it up by adding different forms of entertainment would allow an individual to watch a movie one day then go to a different event another, thereby increasing an individuals attendance.

    Secondly, the overwhelming majority of movies shown by cinefest are much less appealing than a Robert Frost book (no offence). Allowing students, especially students of the performing arts, to have an opportunity to perform, where they otherwise would be unable to, would prove to be a valuable learning experience for the student as well as add enriching diversity to the campus.

    If you don’t believe me, look at the cinefest website itself and the two points I make will be readily evident.

    Ethan Dyer

  3. Thanks for posting that link, as now I know I can catch likely Best Foreign Film Oscar winner The Great Beauty in a theater for five bucks.
    As a former student who occasionally still attends a movie at Cinefest, let me say that I agree that the venue could be better utilized and better marketed, and that could start with the film studies department encouraging more of their students to use it. I minored in film and never heard a professor even mention Cinefest or a film playing there, despite the fact that Cinefest fairly often screened important films that other theaters in Atlanta didn’t.

    As for allowing students to use the venue, why not allow more student FILMS to be screened there? There needs to be more encouragement of film culture at GSU, not less. After all, film production is a growing economic engine in Atlanta. GSU should be finding a way to connect to that business and expanding film programming at GSU, not cutting it.

  4. I do believe that there needs to be a lot more to be done in the marketing aspect of Cinefest. More often than not, when I ask anyone about what’s playing for the day, they have no idea. I hope that they decide against cutting the hours. As a commuter student with a massive gap in the middle of the day, I love to be able to not just watch a movie for free, but to watch something that I never watch if I were going to Atlantic Station or Phipps Plaza, mostly because it’s not offered there. Cinefest forces me to push myself into seeing something that isn’t pushed in front of me, and I love that.

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