This tiny town of Morris, Minnesota has one single-screen theater that was built in the 1940s — it’s a classic and historic building, where I’ve spent many hours. Two of my kids worked there through high school and part of college. It has struggled a bit, though, and several years ago there was a worrisome struggle when the owner sold it, and one of the buyers intended to turn into a goddamned church. Morris has over 15 churches, but only one theater, so that would have been a wasteful catastrophe. Fortunately, it was instead bought up by a coalition of community members committed to preserving it, and it’s now a coop. I’m a member, and I’ve actually just volunteered to work in the theater maybe once a week, starting in January. Come on out some evening, maybe I’ll sell you some popcorn.
There is an exhibit on the history of the theatre opening at the county historical museum today, and there is a video about the community efforts.
One catch, though: movie distribution has changed, and it’s really tough to book for a single-screen theater anymore.
Our next great challenge: the movie business itself. Regrettably movie studios are becoming our enemy. Studios are insisting that even small single screen theatres, like ourselves, must keep first run movies for three weeks. This means no other movie can be shown on our one screen while the first run movie is in town, which is a significant problem because our audience drops off dramatically in subsequent weeks. To keep showing first run movies we need a smaller, second screen. This will allow us to move first run movies to the smaller screen after two weeks, and bring in a new movie on the big screen. We can also use the small screen for quirky films and special events while a first run film is showing on the main screen.
That necessary second screen is in the works. The room is there. There’s all kinds of carpentry going on. But it needs more money to finish the work and get the projection equipment — once we’ve gotten over that hurdle, we can achieve a major leap in revenues, which will allow further renovation. There is a GoFundMe to raise money to complete the second screen — donate if you love movies and classy old art deco theaters! And if you do donate, next time you’re in Morris I’ll take you to the movies, my treat.