By Steve Seepersaud
Movie theaters aren’t what they used to be. Ornate structures have been replaced by contemporary buildings that look the same whether they’re in New York, Ohio or California. Sure, the reclining leather seats in today’s movie houses are comfortable, but the cookie-cutter creations lack character. Though technology has enhanced pictures and sound, it doesn’t feel like as big a deal anymore to go to the movies.
Those are the sentiments Haeyong Moon ’99 captured in Broadway Treasures, her documentary focusing on the plight of historic theaters in downtown Los Angeles. She will be screening the film in California this fall and hopes to screen it in historic theaters across the country.
“I’ve always been a film geek,” said Moon, who was a projectionist while studying cinema and psychology at Binghamton. “I discovered these theaters on a downtown walking tour, and I decided I had to know everything about them. I signed up for more tours and talked with historians. I felt it was my duty to document these theaters, so I started scheduling interviews.”
Broadway Treasures — her first foray into documentary producing — spiraled into a nine-year project. Each time Moon conducted an interview, she’d get names of three more people to follow up with, and she didn’t want to leave anyone out. It wasn’t easy finding time to interview more than 90 people amid a busy career in the industry; she’s a post-production manager for DreamWorks Animation.
Out of the 12 remaining structures in the city’s Broadway Theater District, only three — the Globe, Orpheum and United Artists — are active performance sites. Some theaters have been converted to retail space, while others are shells of their former selves because it’s too tough to make a profit.
“I talked to theater operators, designers, puppeteers, photographers, vaudeville performers — lots of people who had their hands on these theaters at various times,” Moon said. “They miss the grand palaces with the big curtain unveiling the screen. People used to get dressed up to go downtown, and it felt more special than it does now.”
Though it would be easy for Moon to focus her film on lamentations about a bygone era, she felt it was important to include a glimmer of hope for the future. Efforts to revitalize downtown Los Angeles have taken steps forward and backward since she started producing the documentary. This was part of the reason it’s taken so long to complete the film; she wanted a hopeful ending and an Apple store moving into a dormant space closes the story on a positive note.
“I found that a lot of Los Angeles natives were upset with the city,” she said. “They felt more should have been done to keep the theaters going. But people here are very open-minded. As long as the original architecture is maintained, people are fine with theaters being re-used as retail stores. They just want to see someone taking care of them.”
To learn more about the project, visit mooncinema.com.