Owner Eric Hart finds older Cape residents come out for art house films
Hopes to expand Cape Cinema's offerings beyond movies
By James Kinsella
In many ways, "Slumdog Millionaire" - an exciting movie about a youth from the slums of Mumbai who gets an improbable shot at riches by appearing on an Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" - would seem to appeal to a younger crowd.
There's danger, violence, humor, improbable twists and turns, and the ardent pursuit of beautiful young woman by the young hero of the film.
But for the past couple of weeks, the lines that have been extending out the doors of the Cape Cinema off Route 6A in Dennis principally have been filled by people on the other side of age 50.
Eric Hart isn't surprised.
"You sort of have to understand the marketplace here," said Hart, who's operated Cape Cinema for the past 24 years. "You're marketing to an older audience."
It's the kind of audience that will put up with - even embrace - foreign-made films such as "Slumdog Millionaire," with its subtitles for extensive non-English dialogue, and with its lack of stars even remotely known to U.S. audiences.
And it's also the audience that has helped Cape Cinema, with its single screen, survive and even thrive amid a sea of multi-screen cineplexes on Cape Cod.
In Hart's view, the demographic of people 60 years of age and older on the Cape is "underserved, even though it's pretty much in the majority."
The heart of his famously loyal audience is the people who first got a taste of art house and foreign films when they attended college in the 1960s and 1970s.
They've continued to seek out those films, even as they've pushed toward and into retirement. And they've been joined by the younger baby boomers, who themselves no longer are young. In recent weeks, during the run of "Slumdog Millionaire," they've generated crowds that Hart describes as "summer-esque."
By and large, however, they're not sharing Cape Cinema, with its Rockwell Kent mural dancing over the ceiling and its anachronistic yet comfortable padded single seats, with the younger crowd.
That demographic, Hart said, often either doesn't go to movies, or prefers Hollywood productions when it does head for the movie theater.
Enough of an audience, however, is showing up at the 300-seat cinema to enable Hart to do what he wants to do: show art house and foreign films.
It's a passion that began in the 1970s, when Hart, who grew up on the Cape, attended college in New Hampshire and began going to weekly screenings of foreign films. He grew enamored of the very non-Hollywood work of Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard and Federico Fellini.
For a long while, the Cape Cinema was a summer-only operation. Business owner Eric Hart began pushing the cinema's season both earlier and later into the year, making the necessary changes in heating and insulation for the comfort of the filmgoers.
When he began working in Pennsylvania and Virginia as a teacher of teenagers with disabilities, Hart would visit the Cape during summer vacations, and began working as an usher and behind the concession stand at Cape Cinema.
He became manager, and subsequently bought the business from its former owner.
Hart leases the Cape Cinema building from its current owner, the Cape Center for the Arts, a non-profit organization formed by the Raymond Moore Foundation, the longtime owner of the Cape Playhouse and its grounds north of Route 6A.
For a long while, the Cape Cinema building, whose facade is modeled on the Centerville Congregatational Church, was a summer-only operation.
Hart began pushing the cinema's season both earlier and later into the year, making the necessary changes in heating and insulation for the comfort of the filmgoers.
When the Metropolitan Opera became available for simulcast in mid-winter, Hart decided to take the final steps to make the theater operational year-round.
Going forward, Hart hopes the theater will expand to become a multi-purpose arts center, adding musical events and non-profit events and fundraisers to its current mainstay of art house and foreign films.