As more and more people embrace streaming and bingeing, it’s getting tougher to draw them off their couches and out to actual movie theaters. They might show up for a superhero blockbuster, but it’s even harder to make them trek to a quirky independent drama, a foreign film, a documentary.

Or is it?

Akron’s Nightlight Cinema is proving that sometimes quality trumps quantity.

The cozy art house theater on North High Street only seats 53 people. It’s the antithesis of a massive multiplex with 20 screens. But the lack of a mega space is both its charm and its advantage.

“Independent cinema is meant to be an experience and meant to be at the small art houses,” said The Nightlight's Artistic Director Brittany Dobish.

“We don’t have hundreds of seats but the small size of The Nightlight makes us a little more sustainable. We’re proving that Akron is a place for cinema.”

As many smaller theaters have shuttered, The Nightlight is preparing to celebrate its fifth anniversary on July 5 with a fundraising party.

“I just read this New York Times article asking, will movies survive in the next 10 years? You hear that all the time,” said Dobish.

“As a nonprofit, The Nightlight was started by passionate people who believed in this community. We’re not going away. The momentum keeps going. We want to make it a stronger staple in Akron than it already is.”

If some people wear their hearts on their sleeves, Dobish wears her love of movies. Her right arm is a tattoo homage to classic cinema.

There are images of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon,” F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise.”

All are from the silent film era.

“I love the early cinema and the magic of it,” said Dobish. “Méliès was a magician and he created hundreds of silent films based on his magic. ‘Metropolis’ is one of my all time favorite films. ‘Sunrise’ is one of the greatest silent films of all time.”

In a nod to Méliès, the fifth anniversary celebration will include a Méliès-inspired celestial photo booth.

Dobish is passionate when she talks about these movies, and thinks they should be seen on the big screen.

“I have a hard time watching a beautiful film at home,” she said. “The first time I saw ‘Taxi Driver’ was at the [Cleveland] Cinematheque, and the writer, Paul Schrader, was there to introduce it. I sat in the middle of the theater just amazed. I couldn’t move. No other art form does that to me. It was the same with ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’ ”

 

Independent cinema

Propelled by Steve Felix and the Akron Film + Pixel group, along with a $120,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Nightlight opened on July 1, 2014. Downtown Akron had not had a full-time, movies-only theater for nearly 30 years.

“We have always hoped that there was a market for independent cinema in the Greater Akron area, and the fact that we’ve kind of defied the odds and been open for five years has kind of proved that point,” said Matt Wachter, chair of The Nightlight Cinema board of trustees.

The reasons: “Number one, the original programming draws people,” he said. “Number two, the location is unique. We are in the artistic corridor in downtown Akron. There’s a lot happening downtown and we're a part of all that. And three, we try to bring something extra. We have a full bar, so we offer artisanal snacks and craft cocktails that add to the overall experience.”

The anniversary event begins at 5 p.m. on July 5 with champagne, followed by film screenings at 6:30 and 8:30, and an after-party until midnight. Local jazz pianist (and board member) Theron Brown will perform from 5 until 6 p.m. Crave will provide the appetizers.

Tickets are $150 per person, or $75 for Nightlight Film Society members. The goal is to raise $15,000 through the event and other donations.

“We are a small nonprofit, and we really need the community’s help to stay open,” said Wachter. “Our ticket sales and concessions alone are not enough to keep operating.”

In 2017, The Nightlight opened Lounge 237, a comfy room in the back of the building, and The Nightlight Film Society, which features special screenings.

The theater averages about 16,000 a year in attendance, and earns about $125,000 in ticket sales annually, according to Wachter. Since its founding, the executive director baton has passed from Steve Felix to Kurtiss Hare to Eugene Weaver. Dobish, as the artistic director, is running things now, along with House Manager Cir L'Bert Jr. and Show Leaders Anthony Crislip and Kayla Hutchens. They all wear a variety of hats, including introducing the movies.

Upcoming films include:

• “Paris is Burning,” Jennie Livingston’s documentary about the drag scene in 1980s New York, will screen at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

• “Midsommar,” a Swedish horror movie about a pagan cult from “Hereditary” writer-director Ari Aster, arrives on Wednesday.

• "Armstrong," a new documentary about astronaut Neil Armstrong opens on July 19, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.

• Also coming July 19, "Halston," a documentary about the legendary fashion designer.

The main theater, with its lounge chairs up front and comfy couch in the back, resembles a private screening room.

“It’s such an intimate space that you really interact with everything happening on that screen,” said Dobish. “And I’m always interacting with people in the bar and in the lobby in between films. You can’t help but feel a connection with these like-minded people who love cinema.”

 

Clint O’Connor covers pop culture. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or coconnor@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies.