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At a glance
Name: Jonah Crismore
Age: 32
Title and employer: Executive director, Cinema Center
Hometown: Fort Wayne
Family: Wife, Amanda, Web developer at Allen County Public Library
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Jonah Crismore is executive director of Cinema Center, an independently programmed art house movie theater downtown on Berry Street.

Zooming in on strengths

Cinema Center director takes art house theater beyond films

As competition for film lovers’ attention grows, Crismore’s goal is to make each showing at the downtown theater an event.

A lifetime love of movies and the city has propelled Cinema Center Executive Director Jonah Crismore to involve the community in events that revolve around film.

The passionate and creative 32-year-old was named executive director nearly two years ago, and things have been hopping ever since.

Cinema Center, a nonprofit arts organization on East Berry Street downtown, was founded in 1976 and is the only independently programmed art house movie theater in northeast Indiana.

The most recent example of Crismore’s marketing skills was witnessed at Dudefest, an event that drew 400 fans downtown last month for a screening of “The Big Lebowski” at Embassy Theatre.

Quirky, offbeat and darkly humorous, the 1998 movie has become a cult classic and is the most requested film at Cinema Center, Crismore said.

The center hosted a showing of the movie at Indiana Tech to a full house two years ago, prompting Crismore to partner with Embassy Theatre and offer a showing, along with games, bowling, white Russians and a host of other Dude-like activities.

Embassy Theatre was excited to partner with Cinema Center for the event, said Kelly Updike, Embassy’s executive director.

“This is actually a perfect fit for both organizations, and it was very easy and a pleasure to work with Cinema Center,” Updike said.

“We have a great collaborative relationship with Jonah, who has provided good insights and information as we planned our own black-and-white silent film series and on other occasions when we’ve had films in the house,” Updike said.

“He is passionate about film, very knowledgeable and very generous as a colleague,” she said.

Officials were pleased at the results for Dudefest, she said.

“I think 400 was very good for a first-time effort. We thought it was a great event and would like to partner with Cinema Center again,” Updike said.

Unique offerings

In an age of Netflix, where people watch documentaries and independent and foreign films – the type of thing Cinema Center is known for – in their homes, bringing in revenue is a challenge. But Crismore has met that challenge.

The space inside Cinema Center that was formerly shared with art gallery Artlink has been transformed into a Spectator Lounge, used for rentals, fundraisers and events such as “Meet the Filmmakers” and audience question-and-answer sessions.

“Right now, we’re talking about using some of the space for a café, so it will become more of a destination,” he said.

Crismore’s brainstorming sessions revolve around film and the downtown area. Once an idea takes hold, he markets the event through social media.

“With every movie, I ask myself, ‘How can we turn this into an event?’ ” he said.

Crismore has been an asset to downtown, said Bill Brown, Allen County councilman and president of the Downtown Improvement District.

“I think he is a natural for the position and an approachable collaborator,” he said.

The DID has partnered with Crismore on events that have been both fun and successful, Brown said. Intense and serious yet friendly, Crismore does not let ego get in the way, Brown said.

“Cinema Center has had somewhat of an underdog identity, and Jonah, with his quiet way and endearing smile, lets people know that he has what it takes to make Cinema Center a winner, and people love that,” Brown said.

After the success of the outdoor showing of “King Kong” for Arts United last summer, Cinema Center will have an outdoor showing next month of “The Love Bug” in the empty lot next to the theater, along with a Volkswagen car rally, Crismore said.

Vorderman Volkswagen in Fort Wayne is sponsoring the event, and Crismore will again partner with Shaffer Multimedia for the outdoor projection.

“This kind of event is great for community-centered sponsors and offers fun and enjoyment for the community,” Crismore said.

Cinema Center was also the top winner in the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne’s Let’s Give Allen County day of giving, raising $25,188, Crismore said.

Other community events hosted by the center include the annual Oscar party, Artament Auction, Braineaters Ball, Rock N’ Reel and Midnight Movie Series.

Getting started

Barely out of his teens, Crismore worked at Lincoln Corp. and the Allen County Public Library, where he met his future wife, Amanda.

The couple married and moved to Chicago, where Crismore attended Columbia College, majoring in film. He spent a semester in Los Angeles, where he worked as an intern on the AMC television series “The Walking Dead.”

The couple decided to move back to Fort Wayne after Crismore completed college because Amanda had an opportunity to attend an Indiana college.

She now works as a Web developer for the library, and most of the couple’s friends are “library people,” Crismore said.

One of the first challenges Crismore faced as the Cinema Center’s executive director was converting the theater to digital projection.

“With digital, the movies are sent to me on a hard drive, which is much easier to get,” Crismore said. Before that, a movie – many times containing 75 to 100 reels – had to be shipped.

“It took so long,” he said.

Luring new viewers

Other movie venues in the city represent competition and challenge for Cinema Center, but Crismore said there is an upside.

In making documentaries and independent and foreign films more accessible, Netflix has exposed a new audience to those types of films, in turn drawing them to Cinema Center, he said.

“The downside is we are competing with people who can watch the movies in the comfort of their own home,” Crismore said.

“That’s why we try and make a film an event,” he said. “We may have discussion on local issues relayed in the film, local music or a reception before or after the film,” he said.

The theater is in the process of attaining a beer and wine liquor license and has partnered with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the New York Film Critics Series to offer more alternative screenings, Crismore said.

“We had a live screening of ‘Richard II’ by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and it was very successful,” he said. “In June and July, we will have ‘Henry IV,’ Part I and II.”

Admission prices are increased for alternative screenings, which are not available in other venues, he said.

“It’s all about finding new, innovative ways to enrich the film community,” Crismore said.

vsade@jg.net

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