When the news came recently that Village 8 Theatres would be closing by the end of 2016, many people expressed sadness to see the 40-year-old Louisville movie house disappear.
Surely some loving tributes to the discount theater will soon begin circulating. I remember many nights spent in Dupont Circle. As a broke kid with no transportation, a Denny’s/Village 8 outing or date night was a regular fixture of my social life.
But as a film lover, I am more curious about the effect this closure will have on the city’s ability to screen art films and to host all the film fests that call Louisville home.
Art films, independent films and foreign films have historically struggled to find audiences outside of the largest two or three cities in the country.
Over the years, Louisville has stayed fairly well-supplied with off-the-beaten-path cinema. For years, the historic Vogue Theater on Lexington Road provided Louisville with its supply and also ran weekly showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
In the mid 1990s, the Vogue was challenged by a new kid on the block, Baxter Avenue Theatres. The multiscreen movie house nestled in the Highlands at Mid City Mall could offer a wider range of films. Baxter dabbled with some second-run films, but mostly focused on art films and artier mainstream movies. The Vogue closed, and Baxter reigned as Louisville’s purveyor of indie film.
The balance changed again when Showcase Cinemas on Bardstown Road closed more than a decade ago. Suddenly mainstream films needed a new home in the Highlands, and Baxter filled that gap. While they still get the artier mainstream films, they also run kids movies and blockbusters. Most of the really independent stuff got forced out.
Thankfully, Apex Theaters, the local company that owns Baxter Avenue, also owns the Village 8. The art films found a home in Dupont Circle.
With the digital revolution, the cinema landscape shifted nationwide. Celluloid films used to come in bulky containers, with features requiring multiple reels, and they had to be projected from large, finicky machines. Digital films can be mailed via DVD or simply emailed or shared digitally. They are projected using machines that are a fraction of the size and cost of before.
With this ease of use, Louisville has seen a huge increase in film festivals. The Jewish Film Festival, the LGBTQ Film Festival, Idea Festival Film offerings, and the 24 Hour Film Fest all use Village 8 for screen space.
Its closing will shine a light once again on one of the essential questions of the Digital Age: What is the value of brick-and-mortar spaces? As digital and Internet-based access to a variety of media has increased, their traditional havens — video stores, bookstores and record stores — have slowly closed.
Generally speaking, movie theaters are standing against the tide of closures; their business as a whole is actually growing. Village 8’s year-end closure isn’t caused by financial woes. They are being forced out of their lease as a result of KentuckyOne Health’s purchase of the property.
But is their business model strong enough to relocate? So far, Apex CEO Les Aberso Jr. hasn’t publicly commented about the company’s plans, and he didn’t return a call from WFPL.
If Apex doesn’t have a plan to relocate and continue to serve the independent and film festival needs of Louisville, who will?
The Louisville Film Society’s stated goals align with the needs that could soon exist in Louisville’s film community. But they don’t currently have a brick-and-mortar location, which will surely cramp their ability to be a part of a solution.
When the Speed Museum reopens in March, they’ll have a 142-seat theater that can screen films. And perhaps more importantly, they’ll have a film curator, Dean Otto. Art-house theaters aren’t just about a location; they’re also about a curatorial eye. The Speed and Otto could presumably step into the gap left by the Village 8’s closure and host a number of festivals and art films.
But will one screen be enough serve the variety of needs of the film-loving community here?
Louisville has 10 more months to figure out what’s next. The film festivals, the Speed Museum and Dean Otto, the Louisville Film Society and Apex Theatres — they all have time to plan their next moves before Village 8 screens its last film.
But what does Louisville want, and what does our film community need?