Last updated 9/14/2021 at Noon
Clint Eastwood is 91 and his new film, “Cry Macho,” in which he stars and directs, is slotted for Sisters Movie House. I have seen the trailer and I imagine being first in line for the showing. Not everybody thinks as highly of Eastwood as I do, but even those who don’t like his films, talents, or politics, admire his grit, longevity, and box office prowess. As an actor, the 48 films in which he appeared grossed $2.4 billion. The 39 films he has directed scored $3.3 billion.
I was anxious that Sisters Movie House wouldn’t have the film, meaning I’d have to schlep to Bend to catch it at the Regal. I have been anxious for the past year that the Movie House could survive the pandemic or, to a lesser degree, the shifting winds of Hollywood distribution strategies.
In fact, I worry more about the survivability of the Movie House than COVID. I respect the consequences of COVID, but do not fear it. I will not be somebody who won’t go to a theater feeling safer watching Netflix on my TV. That’s a “bowling alone” scenario. Movies, good ones especially, are meant to be experienced — note I didn’t say “seen” — in a theater on a big screen with cushy seats, popcorn, candy, and fellow movie goers.
It’s a shared experience, even with strangers, sorely needed as COVID strips away our togetherness. It was another Hollywood powerhouse, Will Rogers, who was alleged to have said, “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.”
Just how did Sisters Movie House make it after being closed for 431 days? How does any business survive that? I’ve watched the owners epitomize the small business owner. They sell the tickets, the fun (kaching) part of the business, scoop the popcorn, pour the sodas, clean the floors, wash the windows, shovel the snow, empty the trash. It’s not glamorous work.
“We were fortunate to have set aside some funds that we had designated for future projects and could convert those to sustain the losses,” said Drew Kaza who, with his wife, Yeeling Cheng, owns the four-screen cinema. “Also, we were the beneficiary of local, county, and state grants that helped carry us through.”
It was one of those occasional times when I felt my tax dollars, beside those for schools and roads, were put to good use.
He talked about the impact of the $15 billion “Save Our Stages Act,” a COVID-relief grant program administered by the Small Business Administration. That was the business side. On the emotional support front, Drew and Yeeling were just overwhelmed by the generosity of the community.
“We got loads of cards, even checks that just showed up,” Kaza related.
Keep in mind that while the Movie House has resumed showings, patrons are not exactly flocking to the silver screen. Drew and Yeeling sell only 50 percent of available seating as a social-distancing tactic. Many movie-goers remain concerned about the intimate setting a theater represents in the face of rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and are postponing their movie-going habits.
Too bad, I think. There are some pretty good films out right now and Kaza says the fourth quarter releases may be the best he’s ever seen with so many titles warehoused as studios waited out the pandemic. Not everything, the popular culture notwithstanding, is apocalyptic, dark, and dystopic or cartoonish or based on action comics. “Cry Macho” among them.
I asked about the just-released Juliette Binoche (another ageless screen star) French film, “Who You Think I Am,” that was made in 2019 but held back until last week.
“Films with subtitles just don’t work in Sisters,” Kaza said, which surprised me.
He should know. Kaza isn’t just a small-town movie house operator. He is a veteran international media executive and entrepreneur as managing partner of Quoin Media & Entertainment. From 2007 to February 2015, he served as executive vice president for Digital Development for Ironbridge Capital Partners client Odeon UCI Cinemas, Europe’s largest cinema chain.
From his start with Comcast in the U.S. and U.K., he went on to senior management roles within some of the world’s leading media companies. He ran global pay television distribution for Hollywood studios Universal/Paramount/MGM as President at UIP.
Kaza developed NASN (North American Sports Network) in conjunction with Setanta Sports when he was CEO for Paul Allen’s Vulcan European Media. He was an executive board director at BBC Worldwide and has also served on the boards of media companies in Sweden, Japan, and Latin America.
I love uncovering layers of talent like this in Sisters Country. Like so many accomplished, albeit often obscure, Sisters folk, many with worldwide experience, Kaza and Chen are just plain-talking and, in my eyes, real-life action heroes.
The one thing they haven’t been able to manage their way out of in these hard times is finding enough workers. Sound familiar? All over Sisters, the workforce shortage is a crisis forcing merchants and restaurants to curtail hours or eliminate days.
For now though, the cinema doors are open and the popcorn is popping. Mask up and head on down.