Cinéfest Turns 20
GSU's student-run art house theater celebrates two decades
By Nicole Schimmel (B.A. '11)
Blake Myers (B.A. '03) was a fixture at GSU's Cinéfest years before he took over as manager of the theater. Back when he was in high school, he would make the trek all the way from his home in Buford, Ga., to catch a movie.
"I used to tell my parents I was going somewhere else and really go downtown," says Myers, who managed the theater from 1997 to 2001.
Ever since its first film, "British Animation Invasion," played to a packed house back in August of 1991, Cinéfest has enjoyed a cult-like following among film fans on campus and all across Atlanta.
Like Myers, film buff Marvin Evangelista (B.A. '07) was a fan of Cinéfest long before he started working there. He first came on staff in 2004, but he started seeing movies there back in '94. Now back at GSU working toward another degree, he currently serves as general manager. "Our motto was and has always been about exposing students to films that they wouldn't catch in a multiplex mall theater," he says.
Cinéfest opened during the height of the 1990's art-house theater revival, and it quickly became a cultural landmark for fans of obscure cult-classics, slasher flicks, independent titles, foreign films and documentaries.
"We were one of the few theaters to bring those types of films to Atlanta," Evangelista says.
In 2000, Atlanta's Creative Loafing named Cinéfest the best first-run movie house and described it as "Mother's Milk for the serious film fiend."
The history of Cinéfest begins with Michael Williams (B.A.'97). Twenty years ago, Williams worked with the Student Government Association, faculty and facilities management to create a permanent home for the long-running Lyceum Film Series, a makeshift operation that screened art house films in a room in Classroom South.
"I worked really hard to get all the approvals," Williams remembers, adding that along with landing the new, permanent location for the theater on the second floor of the University Center, he was able to secure about $250,000 for upgrades to the space.
Williams' hard work paid off. The theater opened with 134 seats, a fixed screen, a 14-speaker surround sound system, sound-proofing and a new 35-mm projection system - a definite step up from The Lyceum, which had been using a roll-down screen, two 16-mm projection systems and speakers, borrowed from WRAS, GSU's student radio station, propped up on chairs.
Much like the DJs at WRAS, Myers says, Cinéfest staff recognize their roles as tastemakers, not just on campus, but in the community.
"We were always trying to reach out beyond Georgia State and reach out to the audience in a way that other theaters didn't," he said.
These days, Cinéfest is still a place for students, faculty, staff, alumni and the Atlanta community to see mainstream and independent films on the cheap. For faculty, staff and students, admission is free. General admission to the theater is $3 before 5 p.m. and $5 after 5 p.m.
Williams, now production manager at Rialto Center for the Arts, says the secret to Cinéfest's longevity is the theater's art house niche.
"There has always been a core group who were attracted to it and wanted to be involved," Williams said. "And people who are very enthusiastic about film and keeping good, diverse programming going."