The little cinema that could

If there are movie buffs or just fans of Academy Awards season on campus, chances are they’re going to want to see the films that have been nominated for such a prestigious award. 

However, most conventional cinemas don’t typically show these films unless they have won something so large as an Oscar, so one can’t witness for themselves the hysteric anger of J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash” or Michael Keaton’s redemptive film star-gone-Broadway in “Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), until after they’ve received the acclaim of the Academy. 

Luckily for Sonoma County residents and Sonoma State University students, there’s a little cinema with a large history on the eastern end of Santa Rosa.

Summerfield Cinemas has gone through a rather tumultuous life. The foundation it’s now on was once an ice rink in the 1950s and 1960s. It was converted to a small two-screen theater known as Parkside before Summerfield owner Dan Tocchini’s partner sold the theater to Redwood Theaters.

Business dwindled and Redwood Theaters sold Parkside, where it was transformed into a church with two different chapels. Tocchini and his partner bought back the property in the mid 1980s and expanded the cinema into a five-plex. 

As a twin and five-plex cinema, one auditorium was known as Plaza at the Lakeside and showed strictly art films. However, Parkside did not last once again.

In the 1990s, the property manager sold Parkside to Rialto Cinemas, a chain of cinemas that owns a multiplex in downtown Sebastopol, almost immediately after the lease was due to expire. Rialto showed conventional films, or typically blockbusters and large name pictures for the time the company owned the property. It wasn’t until November 2010 that Tocchini was sold the property by its owner’s mother in a rather dilapidated state. 

It was in 2010 as well that the theater finally earned its name of Summerfield Cinemas. After $250,000 in repairs and another $800,000 remodel, Summerfield was back open for business. Since then, Summerfield has shown strictly art films with the exception of a few Hollywood movies that still hold some independent merit like the recent sequel, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” or those of indie-film sweetheart Wes Anderson. 

As well as Tocchini’s dominion over the Santa Rosa Cinemas, there’s also a special event held every first and third Thursday of the month. Enter Neil Pearlmutter’s CULT Film series.

“Classic Underground Lost Films,” or CULT, began in October 2012 after Neil Pearlmutter attended a showing of the 30-year rerelease of Harold Ramis’ classic “Ghostbusters.” 

Pearlmutter believed he could use his extensive knowledge and childhood love of B-movies and slasher flicks to bring in some fans of the classics, like the “Weird Al” Yankovic-starring comedy “UHF” or even Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” series. 

“I just wanted to share the same experience I had with double features with the people of Santa Rosa,” said Pearlmutter.

The series hosts diehards that once came to the films alone and ended up establishing a community of moviegoers who really enjoy the atmosphere and the experience of seeing their old favorites on a big screen. 

As an occasional treat, Pearlmutter secures either directors or B-movie actors relevant to the twice-monthly double feature for a Q-and-A session in-between films that allow the moviegoers to get to know more about the movies they adored as a child, or have even just discovered. 

If independent films happen to be one of someone’s biggest interests, or if they just want to see what their favorite actors are featured in, Santa Rosa’s Summerfield Cinemas is just the place for that person to see them without having to wait for the film to possibly win some kind of film award. 

And if  they happen to be a large fan of “Halloween” or some good old-fashioned mid-20th century cinema, then Pearlmutter’s CULT film series promises much more than just paying the price of a Bluray copy of a film before one can even decide if you like it.