The thing Eric Faden likes best about owning a movie theater is not the free popcorn or the unlimited tickets, but the fact that he only has to walk downstairs from his apartment to get to it.
Faden, who earned three advanced degrees from UF--an MA in mass communication (1993) and an MA and PhD in English (1994 and 1999)--is known throughout Lewisburg, Pennsylvania as the guy who saved the historic Campus Theatre from an uncertain fate. After accepting a job as an assistant professor in the English department at Bucknell University in May 2000, he started looking for a place to call home. What he found was a 60-year-old single-screen movie theater in danger of being demolished.
"There is not much you can do with an old theater," he says. "They are bulky and awkward. Some people turn them into swimming pools because of the slanted flooring. This one would have probably become a parking lot." Faden looked around at the building's ornate Art Deco design and decided he could not let that happen.
With the guidance of Bucknell's Small Business Development Center and aided by a small grant from the university, he bought the Campus Theatre and began renovations. He replaced the 1930s wiring and plumbing and installed a computer system to replace the old handwritten ticket reports. He cut out about 200 of the original 700 seats to make space for tables and chairs in the back of the theater for those who want to nibble on soup and sandwiches from the new café he installed in the lobby. Faden had to purchase a popcorn popper, since the theater had been reheating popcorn made elsewhere. He also bought an ice machine to end the theater's bad reputation for selling warm sodas. An empty space above the lobby was turned into his apartment.
Faden hired a small staff of part-time employees to sell tickets, play the reels and run concessions. Ironically, Faden found a fellow UF English alumnus, Mary Bannon (MA, 1990), to manage the theater. Bannon takes care of the day-to-day operations of the theater, managing staff and obtaining films from studios. Together, they decide what films to bring to the theater. On June 6, 2001, the first movie under Faden's leadership aired.
"The theater had been showing only very mainstream movies," he says. "And I really wanted to shake things up. I decided to initiate the public the hard way." The theater had been running Columbia Picture's A Knight's Tale, a light-hearted romantic comedy about a peasant who wants to be a knight. Faden left A Knight's Tale on the marquee but instead showed the crowd Memento, a dark and suspenseful drama about a man plotting revenge for the death of his wife, while suffering from amnesia. "No one walked out," he said. "They liked it."
The Library of Congress brought a two-week film festival to the Campus Theatre in October of last year, playing 37 movie classics. Actress Janet Leigh introduced Touch of Evil, which she starred in with Charlton Heston. Faden says there are fewer places, these days, for festivals such as these to run. In the 1940s, there were about 17,000 single-screen movie theaters in the US. Today, there are fewer than 300. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed historic movie theaters first on its list of the nation's most endangered historic places.
Luckily, there is hope for the Campus Theatre. It is slated to become a non-profit organization, which will open the doors to grant funding. "To keep a single-screen theater open you have to either go non-profit or win the lottery, and since I've never had much luck with the lottery, I'm relieved to be getting non-profit status." Faden, who had no aspirations of becoming a businessman, is glad his financial struggle will soon be over. "This has been the toughest two years of my life, but I know I'll look back on it with pride," he says. "There was nothing rational about this process. This project had nothing to do with common sense. The next property I buy will be a pre-fabricated house in the suburbs."