by Susan Uhrlass
Not too many movie theaters can say they've been around for over 100 years. The Cameo Cinema in St. Helena, CA is one of the country's oldest single screen cinemas, having been built and opened in 1913. The cinema acts as a cultural hub for its community of 16,000 -a relatively small population to support an independent cinema of their size. The engagement with its community has allowed the cinema to program a variety of films that range from the independent festival fare to studio blockbusters like Interstellar. The cinema's art house vibe has made it a frequent movie-going location for Hollywood royalty like the Coppola family.
The Cameo acts as one of the Napa Valley Film Festival's premier venues, which was recently held from November 11-15 across four locations in the region. Current Cameo owner Cathy Buck has championed the festival's positive impact on her business for years -going as far as encouraging her regular customers to sign up for passes ahead of time in order to be part of the experience. Hosting a film festival has brought many advantages to a single screen theater like the Cameo, allowing them to promote their business to a wider swath of the population that might not ordinarily be aware of it.
A big part of the cinema's success has been its attention to detail when it came time to transition to digital equipment. The cameo went digital in 2009 after writing and successfully receiving a grant from Barco to finance the transition. The upgrades didn't end there, as Buck carefully crafted the cinema's look to keep the feel of an authentic art house movie theatre while still offering the latest standards in technology and customer comfort. The Cameo features seating from Irwin Seating and is equipped with Dolby Atmos and Meyer Sound speakers. Depending on the film being shown, there are also wine nights when moviegoers can enjoy one of the local wines while watching a film. For the Cameo, opening its doors to a community film festival has been a great way to continue being a reference point in the arts scene of their area. As Buck states, thanks to festival it's not strange to walk around Napa Valley and hear locals end their conversations with "See you at the movies!"