Sweeping operational changes soon in effect for Cinefest

Cinefest will soon see its budget cut by around 50 percent and its weekly hours substantially reduced by May if new plans the Spotlight Programs Board are implemented.

Representatives of Spotlight and the University Center verbally informed Cinefest staff members of these planned changes in January, though a final decision has been pushed back to March after opposition from the student-run movie theater.

Marvin Evangelista hands popcorn to a customer.
Marvin Evangelista hands popcorn to a customer.

“The board is making radical decisions about how the organization should be run,” said a Cinefest employee who requested to remain anonymous. “Cinefest has been run sufficiently for over 20 years now, so it seems like these decisions aren’t being made by students, but by people who don’t have a vested interest in it.”

Since 1991, Cinefest has been a part of the University Center at Georgia State. The theater screens a variety of films, including documentaries, foreign films, independent films and Atlanta-exclusive premieres. Some students have also created films that were shown in Cinefest.

According to the staff, the proposed cuts to the theater’s budget more than $70,000 annual budget will severely affect the quality of entertainment and service.

“We’re at wit’s end,” the same Cinefest employee said. “Our staff is going to be very, very limited. Our programming is going to be very, very limited. In fact, Cinefest may have to be run by students from the Student Center who have no knowledge on how to operate a film theater.”

According to Cinefest faculty members, Spotlight is also trying to remove concession sales. According to those same employees, these sales (i.e. popcorn, soda, etc.) are the biggest revenue generators for the theater.

“They’re not educated on how we function,” another Cinefest employee said, who also requested to remain anonymous. “It’s not that they simply don’t care, but they just don’t understand, and it’s been really hard.”

As the official programming board for the University, Spotlight puts on events for students such as Panther Prowl and Blue at the Zoo. One of Spotlight’s subsidiaries, Spotlight has funded programming for the theater since Cinefest’s founding in 1991.

Phillip Smith, the assistant director of the University Center and Spotlight advisor, says the changes to Cinefest’s operational schedule are necessary due to low attendance.

“Over the last five semesters, Spotlight has been observing the attendance rates of Cinefest and the statistics don’t justify having the theater open seven days a week,” Smith said. During certain weeks, the theater sometimes only hosts five customers during the week, and 10-12 customers during the weekend.”

According to Smith, one way to maximize attendance would be limiting programming to Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The limited availability could lead to larger attendance numbers while the theater is in operation.

Smith said that although movies will no longer be screened during the week, Cinefest would still be in operation. Possible alternatives to movie screenings include the use of the theater for events such as “poetry night” and “open mic night.”

“The goal of these changes is not to cut Cinefest’s programming or funding but rather optimize attendance rates in the theater. It can cost us between $700-900 dollars to run a movie for an entire week that will only be seen by five students,” Smith said.

Smith also said that these weekly events will allow Cinefest to keep the same number of employees staffed.

Update 2/24 at 2:25 p.m.

However, Cinefest representatives dispute those numbers and argue attenance is closer to 50 to 60 people a day depending on the movie and not counting weekends.

“We average around 10-15 customers per showing during the week, averaging out to 60 participants at the day, and that’s just the average,” Kim Ruiz, the Assistant Manager of Cinefest says.

Kim went on to mention that while showing blockbuster films can get more expensive, the average expense for the rights to show a movie during the week ranged between 200-500 dollars.

Moreover, these expenses are paid for at a weekly flat rate, so if the theater was only open for three days throughout the week, then Cinefest would still be forced to pay the same amount of money to show the films in their theater.

Cinefest employees fear that this reduction in operational hours would force management to limit the number of students they can afford to employ. Furthermore, these reductions in staff could shift the organization toward a committee style that could shift a complete change in culture for the theater.

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