New York City is known for boasting a great selection of independent film theaters, in a variety of neighborhoods. Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, a quaint little hub for new and compelling indie films is a sanctuary for some of New York’s most loyal film fanatics. But how do these theaters stay afloat in such a competitive environment?
The staple of independent theaters like Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, are films that typically garner significant buzz during award season. A film like Moonlight, this year’s Academy Award winner for best picture, was made on a small budget of 1.5 million dollars and just ended its 4-week run at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Etu Admssu, an Ethiopian immigrant, is the General Manager at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. He began working at local independent film theaters as a college student. Admssu, fell in love with the world of film and 20 years later is the proud manager of one of Manhattan’s most loved indie film houses. He was always fascinated by the power of storytelling and believes that heart and passion will continue to drive avid cinephiles to his theater.
Admssu explains, “The owner hand-picks each film, and makes sure it’s to our standard. We want to assure films are not just chosen for the business they may drive but also for the message that they have. We are about films; we are not about politics; we judge a film on the merit of the filmmaking. It’s important to us that the content is not offensive to society or could be something that would potentially tarnish our reputation.” As the general manager, Admssu many times makes the decision to pass on different popular films such as Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt, if he feels the film would not resonate as well with his usual audience.
Manhattan’s Upper West Side is home to many of New York’s most treasured art centers. Ranging from Lincoln Center, to the Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas is surrounded by a variety of historical and essentially vital aspects of New York City’s art and culture scene. As an epicenter for emerging and traditional art, New York’s Upper West Side is bursting with residents that are loyal and passionate about their local independent film theater.
Sue and Steven Larson, two New York natives, claim that Lincoln Plaza Cinemas is their preferred theater. “We’ve been to this theater three times this week, and we cannot complain! Prices are fair, and people are friendly. What more could we ask for?” says Larson. They mostly appreciate the fantastic independent film selection that includes films such as; Manchester by the Sea, the German film 13 Minutes, and the Japanese film After the Storm. They also claim to love the theater for the great prices and food choices. AMC Loews, which is located about five blocks down, sells tickets ranging from 17 dollars to 27 dollars, charging an almost 10 dollars difference in comparison to Lincoln Plaza Cinemas 15 dollars ticket charge. The theater also sells a variety of sandwiches and pastries; from smoked salmon sandwiches, to rugelach, all ranging from 3 dollars to 7 dollars versus the usual movie theater staples that are exceptionally overpriced.
In a deliberate effort to keep prices fair and reasonable for their customers, the Lincoln Plaza owners make it a point to work with other small companies. “We take pride in our prices. I am fairly confident that our prices are superior to anyone in the city; we made it that way on purpose. We do not want to be greedy and take advantage of our loyal consumers,” says Admssi. “In terms of the pastries we sell, we give small bakeries the opportunity to have their pastries sold and advertised. We work with eight or nine different companies. We like to think we are helping others as they are helping us.”
Dedicated filmgoers trust that their local independent film house will be around for a long time, regardless of competition.
“I’ve been coming to this theater close to 11 years, and I do not see that changing anytime soon,” says Janet Holden, a loyal attendee. I love film, and I love the homey and almost uninspiring look of this theater. It’s not like all those big theaters with their overpriced popcorn and their expensive plush seats.”
Though it may seem like competition must be constant for small independent film houses, the passionate and loyal clientele keeps these theaters running. Filmgoers trust their choices and keep coming back for more, thus allowing Lincoln Plaza Cinema to maintain its reputation. “Sometimes we pass on films that we could do a lot of business with, that has a commercial value, if it’s not to our standard,” says Admssu, emphasizing the importance of high standards when it comes to films that are chosen to play.
Lincoln Plaza Cinemas has a much older clientele in comparison to many other popular independent film houses in the city. Theaters like The Angelika, located in the trendy neighborhood of Greenwich Village or the Metrograph, located on the Lower East Side are known to attract a much younger audience.
The Upper West Side is home to an older and tremendously cultured audience, making it a prime location for the theater. Arif Kizilay, an usher at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, believes that the loyal consumers of independent film will continue to attend, and possibly even diversify. “I’ve been watching all different kinds of people come in and out of these movies for over four years. Older men and women, native New Yorkers, sometimes tourists, young film lovers. As an Iranian immigrant, I feel the most at home here, where people of all different places come to enjoy the same thing,” says Kizilay.
Films at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas are meticulously chosen. After attending and screening various films that were exposed at different film festivals, theater directors get in touch with film companies to negotiate deals. Pictures that are typically screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, Sundance, and many times the Berlin Film Festival, help make up Lincoln Plaza Cinema’s film library. Lincoln Plaza Cinemas holds exceptionally loyal regulars, and continues to land great and diverse films through their relationships with different film companies, setting them apart from other indie film theaters near them. As the market for independent films continues to increase, small indie theaters will continue prosper.
According to a study done by Entertainment Media Partners, for the Sundance Film Festival the market for independent film continues to prosper. Since 2010, the amount of money given to produce and distribute independent films has steadily increased. Since 2014, over $4.6 billion has been invested in indie films and the majority of the films that are screened at popular festivals land distribution deals. As the market for independent films continues to increase, small indie theaters will continue prosper.