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Arts and Entertainment

Turning on the Nightlight Cinema in Akron
Downtown Akron will have a new home for film as Akron Film+Pixel moves into a permanent space -- while continuing monthly showings at the library and Akron Art Museum

Kabir Bhatia
Steve Felix of Akron Film+Pixel has been championing film in Akron for over a decade; the Knight Foundation is betting on his expertise to make the Nightlight Cinema a success
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
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In The Region:
Downtown Akron’s first new cinema in decades is nearing completion. And it’s not a multiplex. It’s a small, single-screen theater that’s already gotten a big vote of confidence from a recent Kickstarter campaign. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports on the Nightlight Cinema.
Turning on the Nightlight Cinema in Akron

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Decades ago, Akron moviegoers would visit single-screen theaters to see “The Sound of Music,” “Gone with the Wind” and “The Ten Commandments.” But the Astor, the Orpheum, the Waldorf and the Tivoli are long-gone, victims of changing times and the rise of the mall-based multiplex.

Now, Steve Felix of the Akron Film+Pixel is turning back the tide. Construction is barreling ahead for the Nightlight Cinema on Main Street, one block north of the library and art museum.

“This is gonna be the box office and café right here. Tickets sold right there, you walk in through here; this slanted doorway. Come into a little vestibule and then out into the theater itself.”

It’s a single-screen, 46-seat theater finished in dark, rich colors and drapery. There’s no center aisle – all the seats are together to enhance the communal feeling of experiencing a movie.

Come one, come all
Felix says it serves the area’s needs for a different kind of arts attraction.

“The year-round impulse – you just want to see a movie on a random evening and have dinner – downtown Akron needed that. So, lots of new restaurants opening; we just need additional cultural venues. We have Musica [and] some galleries. A movie theater we did not have downtown. Especially one for offbeat films.”

Currently, the theaters nearest downtown are the mainstream cineplexes at Summit or Chapel Hill Malls. The nearest arthouse theaters are in Cleveland – the Cedar Lee and the Cleveland Cinematheque -- which Felix says have been invaluable with advice and support. But the Nightlight will offer Akron one thing none of those cinemas have.

“Primarily locally sourced food and drink. We’re working with local vendors of sweets and snacks. And then local craft beers, and specialty drinks; maybe themed drinks based on what we’re showing.”

That will be available in the area alongside the theater, where Felix plans to showcase movie posters, plus a constantly changing collection of artwork.

Offering that unique experience – movies found nowhere else in an atmosphere found nowhere else – is the recipe for success according to Danielle Flowers. She’s with Renew Theaters, which has been running three venues in Pennsylvania similar to the Nightlight since the 1990s. Her non-profit is bouncing back from the global recession, and Flowers says even then, audiences were responsive to the independent cinema experience.

“In 2008-2009, everyone kind of tightened their belts. And any non-profit would see that hit. And as you continue to share what you’re doing, people want to help you continue. People love our theaters and they want to keep us in town.”

An offer he can't refuse
That was just about the time the Akron Film+Pixel was getting off the ground. Dennis Scholl is with the Knight Foundation, which supports
artistic ventures around the country. He says Felix’s continuing success is what spurred his group to give $120,000 to start the Nightlight.
"I knew right away that we had a guy we could support who could get it done. He had already done over 100 different events around film in Akron. And he really just needed the capital to make the theater happen."

Along with the Knight grant, Felix added a Kickstarter campaign that shot past its $12,000 goal in four days. Last week, the campaign ended at more than $21,000. Even though that money has nothing to do with the Knight Foundation, it confirms Scholl's hunch that the Nightlight is a good idea.

"Clearly there's a lot of pent-up demand in the community. The other thing we saw, is that we have been following the Cleveland International Film Festival. Which is a wonderful, world-class festival. And they have been programming some of the festival in Akron. And selling out every single film. So that's market research right there."

The Nightlight hopes to snag Jim Jarmusch's new film, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” for its projected late-June opening. All of the films at the theater will be presented digitally, as movie studios abandon celluloid. There are plans 
for a classic marquee out front to complement the Nightlight’s modern art-deco style. And while Felix and his crew are concentrating on the single-
screen, there is space available for a second screen.

(Apologies to Akron's Highland Square Theater, which opened in 1938)

Listener Comments:

Actually, the bit about the nearest movie theaters isn't quite true. There is the Highland Square Theater in Akron, Ohio, which is about a mile or two from downtown Akron.

Posted by: Eric McClanahan (Akron) on May 22, 2014 12:05PM
Hi – if you read this article and want to stay informed about The Nightlight Cinema as we near our opening week, please visit and scroll to the bottom right, where you can sign-up for our email newsletter!


Kurtiss Hare
Film Programmer
The Nightlight Cinema

PS - Kabir: Great reporting on this one!

Posted by: Kurtiss Hare (Canton, OH) on May 22, 2014 10:05AM
Great article.. but such a shame you didnt mention Highland Square theater

Posted by: heather (akron) on May 22, 2014 10:05AM
Definitely need more culture in Downtown! And some non-student apartments

Posted by: Ian (Akron) on May 22, 2014 10:05AM
Can't believe I am just now reading this...Akron NEEDS this! So excited! Always love going to Cedar Lee Theater, but it's a far! So excited :)

Posted by: Anonymous on May 22, 2014 6:05AM
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