Walking into the Chelsea Theater in Chapel Hill isn’t like walking into your average movie theater. Unique elements like a handwritten chalkboard concession sign and the open door leading into the neighboring coffee shop give the theater a personal, hometown feel.
These details, combined with a mission for community involvement and a desire to show diverse and thought-provoking movies, are what keep the theater striving. But, had it not been for a group of passionate individuals who banded together last year, the theater might not still be around today.
In November 2017 the former owners of the Chelsea Theater decided that it was time to retire. They would either sell the theater or close it down. Word spread throughout the community with the overwhelming message that something had to be done to save the theater. A group of about ten people got together and with a lot of help from the community turned the Chelsea Theater into a nonprofit.
Emily Kass, the director of the Chelsea, said that she was pleasantly surprised by the community’s response when fundraising began. People were exceptionally willing to donate their time and money to keep the theater going.
“When the community rallied around to save the Chelsea, they did it because it really is a special place,” Kass said. “It’s not because we’re really fancy, they did it because they love the movies.”
They raised $100,000 in less than two months and Kass knew that the Chelsea Theater was getting a second chance. The newly formed board decided to focus on community outreach and education as well as maintaining the diversity of films the Chelsea was known for.
One of the programs they are implementing in 2019 is called “Cinema School: Mornings at the Movies,” and is a collaboration with UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Public Humanities that uses films as a “springboard to talk about local issues and have a local dialogue.” Once a month at 10 am, the Chelsea plays a film chosen by a UNC professor, which is then followed by a conversation about the film between the professor and the audience.
In addition to education outreach, Emily Kass and the Chelsea Theater board want to maintain the diversity of films shown at the theater as well as ensure and promote inclusivity. For example, Thursday matinees now include closed captions so that patrons with hearing difficulties can enjoy movies at the Chelsea.
With all these exciting events coming up, it’s hard to pin down one event that Kass is the most excited about, but a big contender is the Israeli Documentary Film Festival that will be coming to the Chelsea in March.
The theater will be dedicating one of its three screens for five days to show five award-winning Israeli documentaries that have never been seen in the United States. Kass said that she hopes this festival broadens the Chelsea’s audience as well as helps inform people of some of the incredible filmmaking that goes on around the world that never makes it to US movie theaters.
For more information about the upcoming events at the Chelsea Theater and to subscribe to their newsletter visit their website at https://thechelseatheater.org/.