There is very little room in the budget of a “poor, starving artist” for supporting the film industry. With the local major movie theatres charging between $12 and $19 per adult, and matinee pricing becoming obsolete, going to a movie becomes a serious financial commitment. Film aficionado or casual spectator, it is increasingly difficult to keep up with the popular films.

In light of the Oscars, Regal Cinemas is currently running a promotion for their annual “Best Film Festival” at participating theatres across the nation later this month. The part I find most amusing is the glaring truth that the majority of the Best Picture nominated films being previewed at Regal were actually first highlighted at Salem Cinema. (As if Regal suddenly realized that these films were hot-to-trot and snatched them up from Salem Cinema. I see what you did, there, Regal. Cute.) Oscar-nominated titles include Moonlight, Lion, La La Land, and Manchester by the Sea, all of which first showed at Salem Cinema prior to their screen time at major theatres.

But that just goes to prove Loretta Miles’ keen eye for quality art. When I first spoke with Miles, she was preparing to leave for The Art House Convergence in Utah, an annual conference with the mission to “increase the quantity and quality of Art House cinemas in North America.” The conference attracts hundreds of independent theatre owners who show specialty film. Miles, who has owned and operated Salem Cinema since its first location opened at Pringle Park Plaza in 1990, keeps her ear to the ground at all times. Therefore, conferences such as The Art House Convergence are invaluable to Miles in order to spur the growth of independent film.

In another smart business move, Miles relocated her single-screen theatre from Pringle to Broadway in May of 2009, permitting a total of three screens, a better overall ambience, and state-of-the-art technology (for the comfortable price of $7 to $9).

“I typically have four to seven films rotating through on any given week,” Miles said. “I try to not only bring in the bigger arthouse hits but smaller, lesser known indie films as well, along with the best of documentaries and foreign titles.”

However, it’s surprising to learn just how many locals are still unacquainted with the theatre’s existence. And those that are privy to this niche theatre often overlook Salem Cinema as a local, movie-going option. This could be due to a lack of awareness, and even appreciation, of arthouse theatres as Miles explained to me:

“Sadly, foreign language film seems to really struggle in America. I find it’s harder and harder to get an audience for foreign film and that breaks my heart just a bit. Some of the movies coming from other countries are among the best being produced and they can offer such powerful insight into other cultures and ways of being. One thing I wish I could do is to convince Salem to support foreign film as much as they once did.”

But this hasn’t dampened Miles’ proactive spirit. Despite facing the financial and statistical challenges in the industry, her relentless passion for promoting independent and foreign film has made Salem Cinema a shining inspiration for the Salem art community. Miles and her staff proudly support the Salem Progressive Film Series, as well as its other “cinema siblings,” as Miles calls them, in Portland, Eugene, and Corvallis. Being in the industry for over three decades, Miles knows full-well that in order to survive and succeed against the mainstream movie machine, there must be strength in numbers to keep this unique art form alive and well.

And, so far, the surrounding community has been overwhelmingly supportive of Miles’ efforts to raise awareness of the importance of good film in our culture:

“Over and over I hear positive comments from the community,” Miles beams. “It means the world to me to know that what I’ve devoted myself to holds an important place for so many in our community. My patrons are the best of the best and I feel blessed to be supported by such open-minded, caring, intelligent people.”

What is especially exciting for arthouse theatre owners, is that the film industry is rapidly changing, turning everything on its head from how movies are made, to how they are produced, to how and where they can be viewed. This evolution is making art film more accessible to not only the general public, but to aspiring filmmakers as well. Now, just about anyone with an idea and a way to shoot moving images can be a filmmaker. While mainstream film is made to make money for the studio and to appeal to the masses, with its director bought and paid for, independent film is usually made because the filmmaker has a story to tell and a passion to create. The director and the every aspect of the finished product are very intimately involved, making it a more personable and relatable experience.

“These specialty movies,” Miles explains, “are far more personal in nature for both the director and the audience, and therefore tend to cause the viewer to both think and feel, hopefully while being entertained. The stories are often unconventional and are more often than not, infused with the filmmaker’s soul—just as all art is.”

In a time where film is in danger of becoming irreconcilably superficial, arthouse theatres like Salem Cinema are working ardently to change the status quo. I had the personal pleasure of viewing Lion at Salem Cinema a few weeks ago, and I can say that it was the first time in my life that I witnessed every emotion I have ever filed away in my archive of feelings. Never before have I felt so deeply for a character in a film; my heart was in free fall for the entirety of the production. For that very small but very significant reason, we must, we must, we must support independent film and the theatres that are taking an active role in inspiring and advocating for the art of revolutionary films which are created to make us feel deeply, connect purposefully, and live intentionally.

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