The independent movie house screens a winter’s harvest of holiday films and much, much more.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Holiday films have long earned a place in December’s occurrences of chorales and carols, Nutcracker dances and Christmas plays, traditional meals and shopping deals. In the rush to harness the tide, Century Cinemas has got the publicity machine and big corporate coffers, Monterey’s Osio Cinemas owns the indie underdogs and the critically acclaimed, while Carl Cherry Center, Museum of Monterey, Golden State Theatre and Cannery Row XD occasionally light up screens with gems. So what does that leave for Pacific Grove’s Lighthouse Cinemas? Plenty.
They’re re-launching their Classic Film Series that spans five months, starting with December’s Christmas-themed offerings It’s a Wonderful Life, 1951’s A Christmas Carol, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street. Two screenings a week of each, 7pm Thursday and 2pm Saturday, delivered with new and pricey digital upgrades (that came about the same time Osio upgraded to digital projectors). First up this week is White Christmas.
The series is the brainchild of a few people within the company that runs Lighthouse Cinemas, Santa Rosa Entertainment Group, a longtime family-owned company that took over the P.G. movie house about five years ago. The 300-employee SREG owns and operates movie theaters in some medium-sized California markets like Fresno, Ventura County and Healdsburg.
“We tend to look for small operations or areas kind of neglected or ignored and put them back in operation,” says Joe Luis, SREG’s director of administration and co-programmer of special screenings.
“The theater does well there because the P.G. community pretty much stays local,” Luis says. “They like the small town feel. [The] demographic is older.”
Dan Tocchini, wife Amy and their children run SREG, which was started by Dan’s father, who built the first movie theater in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County.
They lease the Lighthouse Cinemas building from John and Sal Enea, of the longtime Monterey family who built it. Clint Eastwood told Dan his family regularly attended movies at the theater in the ’80s.
Dan says the upgrades to digital projectors were installed about three months ago, at a cost of $140,000 per each of their four screens; theater seats number 85, 96, 156 and 200, according to General Manager Jose Gonzalez.
“With 35mm, you’re always risking [damage] if you thread it wrong,” Gonzalez says. “There are dust particles, scratches, background noise and pops. With digital, instead of coming in on six reels that we have to splice together, it comes on a hard drive. The picture quality is a lot better.”
Caleb Dix, SREG’s film buyer, says he programs special screenings at Lighthouse by first “taking suggestions.”
“These four Christmas titles were the ones we really wanted to go for,” Dix says. He says he fought to reduce the ticket prices to $5 apiece and claims the digital-transfer films will be “awesome,” but admits with a hearty and embarrassed laugh, “I haven’t seen all of them.”
Joe Luis says that year-round they program a mix of eclectic and mainstream fare at Lighthouse. As one of the anchors of downtown P.G., the theater boasts variety in its menu.
They play to the hype of new releases: This week, the re-engineered James Bond flick Skyfall and the undying fandom of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. They engender the cinema geek of documentaries like the double feature of Remembering Playland/Sutro’s, about the bygone era of the amusement park and oceanside swimming park in San Francisco, and Kicking It, about the 2006 Homeless World Cup. They screened family-and-elder-friendly movies in the 2010 Classic Film Series, which culled Bridge Over the River Kwai and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And they appeal to highbrow mores in their live digital broadcasts of ballets from the Bolshoi and operas from La Scala.
The movie house also hosts live and local action in screenings that are attended by directors. The Monterey Bay Film Festival’s screening of Revolucion brought out Colombian director Rodrigo Garcia, and John Harris’ locally made nature meditation of Monterey to Big Sur sold out, with a live string quartet scoring the piece silent-movie-style. Gonzalez says that last month’s inaugural Monarch Film Festival didn’t do as well as the organizers had hoped, “but it was their first year.” So the movie house juggles a diverse portfolio of content.
This is how diverse it can to get: The Classic Film Series begins this month with the Christmas selections; then in January a Woody Allen series; a crop of romance films for the Valentine’s month of February; Hitchcock in March; and in April, the Westerns of Clint Eastwood.
And this is how responsive the theater can be: Gonzalez says that he will request films based on customer suggestions; and Santa Rosa Entertainment Group owner/operator Dan Tocchini says, “We’re open. Just email us.”
THE CLASSIC FILM SERIES runs 7pm Thursday and 2pm Saturday, at Lighthouse Cinemas, 525 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. $5. 643-1333, www.srentertainmentgrp.com Email film suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.