Love of film

Pageant Theatre keeps rolling in the Digital Age

Miles Montalbano and his border collie, Bird, sit on a couch in the front row at the Pageant.

Miles Montalbano and his border collie, Bird, sit on a couch in the front row at the Pageant.

Photo by Ernesto Rivera

Miles Montalbano had spent more than 20 years living in San Francisco when owners of the Pageant Theatre, Tim Giusta and Montalbano’s father, Roger, first floated the idea of him taking over the operations of Chico’s longest-running movie theater.

“Living in San Francisco and watching a lot of the old theaters and old institutions disappear because they weren’t able to sustain the market there, it made that a lesser place to be and I didn’t want to see that happening here,” Montalbano said.

Next month marks one year since he took the helm of the independent theater that opened its doors in the mid-1970s and specializes in showing art-house movies that would otherwise never make it to town. And while Montalbano didn’t want to touch the things that have made the theater special to the community, he has expanded on them, bringing some unique new offerings for theater-goers.

The Pageant has started late-night showings of cult-classic films, for example, with local bands opening the show (the next installment is Feb. 27 with The She Things opening up for 1967 sci-fi thriller Spider Baby). And all of February, the movie house is having a film noir double-feature series.

Community events such as these are what Montalbano wants to expand on in an effort to run a successful independent movie house in the age of Netflix and laptop viewing.

“It’s a challenge running a theater in the age of instant gratification and instant downloads, and there’s a whole generation of people who don’t go to movie theaters; they watch movies on their phones,” he said.

Other new (and popular) offerings: The counter behind the Pageant’s ticket booth are filled with more unique snacks, and having recently obtained its beer license, the theater’s mini fridge is packed with PBR and Sierra Nevada.

On a recent Monday night at the corner of Sixth and Flume streets, during the Pageant’s popular “cheap skate” night (where movies are half off), the showing of an R-rated stop-motion film left the theater with only a few empty seats. The old, thrift-store-like couches were some the first seats to go and people of all ages walked down the aisles with organic snacks and, for those over 21, cans of PBR, hard cider and Sierra Nevada.

Alcohol sales will help buoy the operation, but the theater has never been and isn’t expected to become a way to get rich for the people who’ve kept it running for so long. It makes enough to pay the rent and employee payroll and bring the films to town, Montalbano said.

“This isn’t a money-making venture; no one makes money off the Pageant Theatre,” he said. “It’s a labor of love—love of film and love of community.”