The California Theatre needs more than saving, needs continued support!

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On April 12, you reported that fans of the California Theatre in Berkeley have recently launched a petition to save the theater from permanent closure and the historic building from being torn down. As a devoted former patron of the California Theatre, I definitely am in support of this action, and find it inspiring that the community is rallying for it to be preserved.

One component that I have not seen in the ongoing discourse, in your article and in others, is any discussion addressing the theater’s future financial viability. The emergence of streaming services is a major driving factor of lower attendance rates at local theaters, however, the pandemic has also played a large role in slashing the revenue of cinemas across the country. Throughout the pandemic, our government provided financial assistance to cultural institutions to help them survive, including some independent movie theaters, but this funding was extremely limited. I believe that it’s perfectly reasonable that our local or state government could fund the continued existence of this theater. Most cultural institutions are not profitable, but as a society, we should agree that the community and historical value that these centers provide is worthy of our collective financial investment.

Around the world, governments invest in their cultural institutions, yet here in the United States, museums and other artistic centers are seemingly forced to cobble together donations in order to get by. COVID propelled the U.S. government to finally fund cinemas—and they can continue to do so! The focus of preservation efforts needs to be expanded beyond simply saving the California Theatre’s building from demolition; this theater needs to be financially supported through some outside mechanism, and I think that advocating for government subsidies or grants would be an excellent way to turn this singular effort into a larger movement.

Moreover, while they might not be financially viable, movie theaters are extremely valuable. For over a century, movie theaters have allowed people from all walks of life to immerse themselves within the temporary escapism of films, and have exposed generations to the artistic medium of cinema. It is more than simple sentimentality that is behind efforts to preserve these spaces; this movement is driven by a desire to protect sites that have been instrumental within cinematic history.

As a student here at Cal, I know that plenty of my peers share my passion for attending the movie theater. If there are any fellow student cinephiles reading this, know that your support is critical! Post about the cause on your social media and consider attending a local planning meeting. Together, we can save this historic theater.

Jillian Litman is a UC Berkeley senior.
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