Last Saturday I went to go catch Alien: Covenant at the Academy Theater in Southwest Portland. When I entered the Academy Theater, the décor was comforting. The physical theaters were small, cozy, and historical, making it a very pleasant experience to sit through scenes that depict aliens exploding out of stomachs.
Now usually I would say that the film I saw would spark some kind of realization, but my observation of Portland’s independent theaters started at the ticket window. It was when discovered that a Saturday night showing was $4.
Never in my life had that happened. In any other movie theater, expecting such a low price for a movie would not be the case because we assume profit-seeking media conglomerates that back theater companies would push prices up as movie distribution prices increase. This dilemma leaves little room for the showing of independent or low budget productions that would be meaningful for the public to see.
Price matters. It makes the difference between someone going to see a movie and not seeing one. In this way, a $4 screening of Alien puts the democratization of media front and center. This is what was so great about the Academy Theater—that seeing a movie doesn’t have to be a financial loss. Perhaps Portland's independent media arts community ought to be applauded for helping the independent movie theater system survive on such low profits.
The number of independent movie theaters in Portland amazes me. Though I have only made it to the Hollywood and Academy Theater thus far, I cannot wait to sit myself down on the many theater seats to come.
While I have media access on my mind, I also want to highlight another organization that supports accessibility to media or democratization of media in the Portland community: Open Signal. My cohort and I are in the middle of film workshops there. Its mission is to provide film production tools and knowledge so that locals can broadcast their productions on Open Signal's community access channel. On a tour of the studio, our guide compared Open Signal to a mosquito next to the big TV networks and stations. It doesn’t follow codes that they follow and allows for independent creations. They offer workshops I hadn’t even heard of like, ‘video glitching.’ It really seems like a system too good to be true. We have this mindset that media is supposed to cost a fortune to make and even more to be taken seriously. By providing equipment and workshops, they are empowering people of all ages to involve themselves in media.
Sometimes we need little reminders that technology and expertise are not completely out of our hands. Being introduced to this resource and media community reminded me that there is hope for me to one day work somewhere where that media production isn't driven by profits but by the arts and knowledge-seeking community surrounding it.