Since first opening its doors in 1914, The Cinema Theater (957 South Clinton Avenue) has become one of the oldest continuously-operated motion picture theaters in the United States. With its distinctive pink art deco facade and cozy, welcoming atmosphere, the Cinema holds a beloved place in Rochester's moviegoing landscape.
That unique, welcoming atmosphere is one Audrey Kramer and husband Alex Chernavsky hope to see continue as they settle into their new position as owners and operators of the theater, a role they began on January 5.
"It's a scary new adventure, and something that we've never done before. But I guess our love of movies kind of won out," Kramer says.
As longtime devotees of both movies and the Cinema Theater itself, this new venture offers the couple a chance to meld their personal passions together.
Their relationship with the theater began decades ago, when Chernavsky would regularly make the drive up from Marion to take in a movie. "Tootsie" was the first film he remembers seeing at the Cinema, and he recalls falling for the establishment immediately.
"I was like, 'wow this place isn't your typical corporate theater,'" he says. "It really impressed me, and I just kept coming back."
Kramer felt that connection as well, and it's only grown throughout the years. So ardent is the couple's love for the theater that they married there in 2009, holding a reception that saw guests dressing up as their favorite film characters, while the Looney Tunes classic "Rabbit of Seville" played on the big screen.
After working part-time behind the concession stand for the past a year-and-a-half, a unique opportunity presented itself to Chernavsky when former manager John Trickey made the decision to put the theater up for sale. The couple quickly decided the chance was impossible to pass up. They'll lease the theater space, while Trickey maintains ownership of the building, Chernavsky says.
In addition to being avid cinephiles, the pair are enthusiastic animal lovers. They met while working together at the Lollypop Farm Humane Society of Greater Rochester, and Kramer has obtained and cared for the theater's resident cats for the past several years. Keeping up that long-standing tradition, the theater will be welcoming two new cats, Bo and Genny -- both adopted from Lollypop -- who will likely become familiar faces to Cinema patrons.
Much of the daily operations of the theater will remain the same, though the couple plan to introduce vegan options into the menu, partnering with local bakeries whenever possible. Misfit Bakery is one of the first to come aboard, supplying cookies for the concession stand. The menu changes will extend even to the choice of butter for the popcorn (Earth Balance, if you're curious), though Kramer says no one's been able to tell the difference.
"It's salty, it's greasy, and that's really what people want," she says with a laugh.
Though the menu will see some alterations, the theater will continue to offer low-price double features ($5 and $3 for students and seniors, in addition to $3 weekend matinees). But Kramer and Chernavsky are adamant that maintaining the personal connection people expect from the Cinema is what's most important to them.
"It's not like going to the big movie theaters where you're just another face," Kramer says.
They say they'd love to see the theater become home to more community events, as well as a place local filmmakers can host their movie premieres. Chernavsky adds: "More weddings would be nice too. We definitely want to do more weddings."
The Cinema Theater will have its official grand opening on Friday, February 2, celebrating with round-the-clock showings of the comedy classic "Groundhog Day" at 3, 5, 7, and 9 p.m. Free snacks and refreshments will be available, and area animal rescue groups will be on hand with cats available adoption. cinemarochester.com.
On Friday, February 2, at 7 p.m. at the Visual Studies Workshop (31 Prince Street), artist Crystal Z. Campbell will screen her work "Go-Rilla Means War," an experimental short featuring 35mm footage salvaged from a now demolished black civil rights theater in Brooklyn. $5. Free to members. Then on Saturday, February 10, at 2 p.m., VSW will welcome RCTV General Manager Carvin Eison to present a curated program of films and videos from the VSW collection exploring the boundaries of creative expression and experimentation. $5. Free to VSW and RCTV members. 442-8676; vsw.org.
Directed by local filmmaker Linda Moroney, the documentary "Turn the Page," will have its country-wide television premiere on WXXI on Monday, February 5, at 9 p.m. The touching film focuses on Ontario County Prison's Storybook Project, a program allowing incarcerated parents the opportunity to record themselves reading stories to their children. wxxi.org.
Ousmane Sembène's 1966 feature "Black Girl" confronts racism and the legacy of colonialism through the eyes of a young Senegalese woman brought to France to work as a servant for a wealthy white family. The landmark film will screen as part of the Black Cinema Series, presented by the Rochester Association of Black Journalists, at the Little Theatre (240 East Avenue) on Friday, February 23, at 7 p.m. 258-0400; thelittle.org.