Cinema brings back Academy Award series

Cinema brings back Academy Award seriesn Ridgecrest

Cinemas keeps the big screen alive for our small community

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

Remember when the advent of television brought an end to the movie industry? Or when people stopped going to movies because of the home video market? What about how online streaming services put the final nail in Hollywood’s coffin?

Yeah, neither do we.

There’s something unique about the big screen that has made the experience incredibly resilient to a century’s worth of cultural changes. According to Ridgecrest Cinemas General Manager Kelly Walden, it’s more than just a larger screen that continues to draw crowds, it’s also a shared experience.

“Going to the movies is just a different atmosphere than watching at home,” said Walden. “When you’re watching a movie with other people, where everyone gets to have the excitement of seeing a much-anticipated film, you get to laugh together and cry together over these movies. I think that will never change. And of course it’s an excuse to have popcorn.”

Now it’s not that the movie industry has been without its problems over the years. Current movie attendance numbers pale in comparison to the 1940s when three out of five people in the United State went to the movies every single week, according to Business Insider. Viewership began stagnating in the mid ’60s, and there hasn’t been dramatic year-to-year change since.

But the Ridgecrest Cinemas have some tricks up their sleeves to keep this unique experience alive and vibrant for our community. One of those is the third annual Academy Award Series, kicking off Friday, Feb. 7, with Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell,” which has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates).

The film tells the true story of Jewell, a security guard during the 1996 U.S. Olympics who helped evacuate crowds to safety after discovering a bomb, only to undergo a “trial by media” for being a terrorist himself – an accusation he was ultimately cleared of.

With some Oscar-nominated films being limited releases, they sometimes come and go without ever gracing our small town, which Walden says is a small fish in a very big pond.

Ridgecrest Cinemas had no problem acquiring wide releases like “Avengers,” “Star Wars,” “Little Women” or “Frozen.” But because Ridgecrest is a relatively small market with only an independent theater, booking other movies can be challenging.

“The companies that distribute these movies may only be able to give the film to 2,000 theaters in the United States,” said Walden. “They rarely want to give it to us because we’re such a small community; they’d rather give it to a Palmdale theater, knowing it will probably make them more money.”

Walden said she was able to get Universal’s “1917,” Sam Mendes’ lauded WWI epic, but not until it had already been in theaters for two weeks. She also attempted to book the Judy Garland biopic “Judy,” starring Renee Zellweger as the titular character, but to no avail.

“I don’t have any relationship with the company that distributed it, because they’re pretty small,” said Walden. “I called, emailed, Facebook messaged and went to their website for weeks and could not get a response. And that’s pretty typical of this industry.”

Walden attends National Theater Owner events and conventions to establish more face-to-face contacts in an effort to remedy these types of obstacles. She also says there are some perks to being a small, community-minded organization.

“We can rally around this community and quickly change things that aren’t working in our business based on what this community needs and asks for,” said Walden. “We have the freedom to put on community events, fundraise for local nonprofits, offer monthly promotions and more.

“Almost all of our team members are people who have lived here most of their lives. We all love this community, so it makes it easy for us. Everyone really has a passion for working with customers and come up with ideas to make this place amazing.”

In addition to the Academy series, the theater offers birthday party opportunities, morning shows on Flex Fridays, “sensory-friendly” screenings for the autism and special needs community, holiday and summer throwback screenings, social media giveaways and more.

While Ridgecrest Cinemas hasn’t showed any signs of slowing the last few years, the business is still recovering from July’s earthquakes which shut the theaters down for three weeks. Two screens remain closed, reducing the theater’s capacity to six screens.

“We have managed to find the positive in all this, and we are just pushing forward and doing our best to improve,” said Walden. “The community can help by continuing to support us! Tell us what you want us to do, watch movies here and purchase items at our snack bar.”

The Academy Award series continues throughout the month with the Harriet Tubman biopic “Harriet” opening Feb. 14 and Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” opening Feb. 21.

“Harriet” tells the true story of slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who in more than a dozen missions rescued some 70 enslaved African Americans. She also started the Underground Railroad and eventually became an armed scout and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War.

The movie has received two Oscar nominations, one for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Cynthia Erivo) and the other for Best Original Song (“Stand Up” by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Erivo).

“Jojo” tackles similarly serious material – the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany – albeit in a very different manner. The film follows Jojo, a Hitler Youth who begins to question his dedication to Adolf Hitler (who appears in the film as a fanciful imaginary friend to Jojo) when Jojo learns that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in the attic.

While the movie’s comedic portrayal of the Nazis has received some criticism, the film’s heart, humor, optimism and production values have garnered significant praise, resulting in six Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Johansson), Best Adapted Screenplay (Waititi), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Film Editing.

For showtimes, tickets and more about the Ridgecrest Cinemas, find it on Facebook or visit ridgecrestcinemas.com.

Pictured: Kelly Walden, general manager of Ridgecrest Cinemas, sells concessions to a moviegoer. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-02-07