What’s in retailer after Cinema ‘76 strikes to Tomas Morato

THE MICRO-theater Cinema ‘76 offers a very different cinematic experience. It shows films that are rarely screened in the multiplexes, focusing on independent films and restored classics. Tickets are cheaper than at regular theaters. And instead of cushy recliners, the audience sit closely together on benches. The experience does not deter audience members, who often leave the cinema enthusiastically discussing the film they had just seen.

The Cinema ‘76 Film Society first opened in a two-story building in San Juan in February 2016, screening independent and restored films for P120 a ticket. In 2018, a second branch with two screens and an al fresco café opened at the Anonas area, along Aurora Boulevard in Quezon City.

But like many small businesses, it fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 19-month shutdown of cinemas in the country led to the permanent closure of its first branch in San Juan City. The cinema and café in Anonas reopened when pandemic restrictions on entertainment spaces were lifted.

On Sept. 26, a post on its official Facebook page announced that the microcinema would be moving to a new home in Tomas Morato in Quezon City. It screened its final movie at the Anonas branch on Oct. 4.

The move is being made in part to cater to audience expectations.

“We wanted to better serve and cater to our patrons,” said Daphne O. Chiu, president and COO of TBA Studios which runs the microcinema, in an e-mail to BusinessWorld. “We always take into consideration their suggestions on how we can improve our facilities. Offering an air-conditioned dining area for the café was one of those considerations and it’s something we can’t do with our current setup [in Anonas].”

The microcinema’s new home will be located in Tomas Morato corner Sct. Borromeo St. The new official address will be announced later this month.

“Tomas Morato is an entertainment hub and we’re more than happy to bring the Cinema ‘76 experience to the area. With its proximity to entertainment and media centers, Cinema ‘76 Film Society would be the perfect venue for private film screenings, media launches, talkbacks and workshops, live viewing parties, and more,” Ms. Chiu said.

The Tomas Morato cinema will have a single screen like the original San Juan branch. The theater will be 60-seater with a projector and sound system. It will keep its signature bench seating, but with an upgraded design for comfort.

Unlike in Anonas where a mezzanine separated the cinema and the café, the two will be on one floor in the new location.

“This makes it easier for our patrons, especially the moviegoers, to order and bring in select food and drinks,” Ms. Chiu said.

While the Cinema ‘76 Café will retain its movie-themed motif, it will now have an al fresco lounge and an indoor air-conditioned dining area. The café’s food and drinks offerings will also be revamped with the inclusion of a curated menu designed by chefs Gene and Gino Gonzales of the Center for Asian Culinary Studies (CACS).

The microcinema will offer a more diversified program of titles and creative events.

“After the lockdown, we noticed that the Cinema ‘76 audience has been craving different types of films and not just a particular genre. The past year, we’ve been programming a much more varied lineup — a mix of foreign and local fresh releases, award-winning favorites, and festival films. We intend to continue doing so in the new location,” Ms. Chiu said.

Some of the best-performing titles it has shown of late range from mainstream blockbusters such as Spider-Man: No Way Home and sci-fi action comedy Everything Everywhere All At Once, to indie love story Ngayon Kaya and the animé film Jujutsu Kaisen.

While Cinema ‘76 has had sold out screenings since it reopened in November 2021, Ms. Chiu admitted that it is “still far from the pre-pandemic level of audience attendance.”

“But we’re very grateful that we’ve received continued support since we opened,” she added.

Aside from its function as a movie theater, Cinema ‘76 is also a multi-purpose space which has hosted K-Pop and P-Pop fan events, stand-up comedy shows, Boy Love (BL) film viewing parties, as well as private launch parties, alongside the usual talkbacks with filmmakers and actors.

“For the Cinema ‘76 brand, we’ll continue with the fan-favorite Cinema ‘76 Movie Quiz Night. We are already in talks with several organizers for an upcoming improv and stand-up comedy show, music gigs, and filmmakers’ talkbacks and workshops,” Ms. Chiu said.

After its acquisition of the rights to distribute the Michelle Yeoh starrer Everything Everywhere All At Once, TBA Studios will bring the dark comedy Triangle of Sadness and the Japanese dystopian drama Plan 75 to the screen. Both films premiered and earned top prizes at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, with the former winning the Palme d’Or for Best Picture and the Camera d’Or Special Mention Prize for the latter. Triangle of Sadness will open in Philippine cinemas on Nov. 30 and Plan 75 will soon follow.

Meanwhile, TBA Studios’ newest film is Grace, which is a venture with a new film company, Sea ‘N Sun Productions. It recently wrapped up production. The film is a psychological action thriller directed by Ato Bautista about a young man going against a powerful institution to avenge the murder of his girlfriend. It is currently in post-production and a release date has yet to be announced.

“We look forward to growing our market and generating more loyal customers willing to support a small local business in the heart of a new prime location…,” Ms. Chiu said. “It’s exciting to always offer something new that the audience can enjoy.” — Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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