Moviegoers in northern Michigan have a lot to be thankful for.
Though many small-scale theaters across America have closed, the Rialto Theater in Grayling is still a dependable source of relevant film screenings.
Jordan Stancil, a former U.S. diplomat, lectures at the University of Ottawa and runs the theater with his family.
Last year, Jordan and his father George Stancil founded the Rialto Film Club, a program that shows foreign and independent films to subscribing moviegoers.
“We wanted to expand the programming we offer to the community beyond the mainstream Hollywood blockbusters. We started a monthly series of independent films. We thought that if we created a series of these movies and sold passes specifically to that, it would be a way for us to present that material in our town and add something to the cultural mix that wasn’t there before,” said Stancil.
Along with adding diverse titles to its calendar, the theater also maintains affordable ticket prices.
“Our tickets are always six dollars. We want our movies to be accessible to everybody. We have to be there for all our citizens,” said Stancil.
Stancil used his diplomatic experience as a way to reinvent how a theater functions in a community.
“One of the things you see in European countries is the sense that the local movie theater is a place for culture and education. To the extent that we’re able to offer a unique program in our community, I think we’re playing that role in the US and I think more theaters should try that,” said Stancil.
Today, Stancil feels, many American film studios are preoccupied with mass appeal- a business model that has shifted the theaters’ focus to ephemeral, money-making titles.
“Studios are very focused on that teenage audience these days. There a lot of people who want to go watch a movie but they don’t want to watch robots beat each other up. The business model the studios impose on the theaters is driven by the nature of what a multiplex is. It’s hard for the single screens to exist in the environment where everything is designed to be shown on a screen for a few weeks and then forgotten about,” said Stancil.
Amidst the conflicts posed by multiplex theaters, the Rialto has managed to become something different, something Grayling citizens depend on for both entertainment and enrichment.
“We like to consider the theater as one of the anchors of downtown Grayling. We have been there since 1915. It’s a really big job to keep that building up and I think the building should be as important to your experience as what is on the screen. Movies should be something special,” said Stancil.
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