ST. PETERSBURG — When Mike Hazlett moved from Maine to St. Petersburg five years ago, he fell in love with the “great, funky little city.”
But one thing surprised the former New Englander: There was no independent movie theater where he could see art house films.
“This thing didn’t exist,” he said. “So I’m like, ‘Well, maybe I should do it.’”
Hazlett’s new project, the Green Light Cinema, is scheduled to open at 221 Second Ave. N in April. The single-screen independent theater will be a destination for indie productions, documentaries, cult favorites and foreign films.
Green Light Cinema will have 100 red velvet-covered seats and use digital technology for projection. One or two art house films will be shown each week.
Hazlett, 53, is bringing expertise from his days of booking films at independent theaters in the ′90s. But his film curation strategy will also depend on what the community wants to see.
“Is it oldies? Is it classics? Is it cutting edge stuff?" he said. “I’m amenable to anything.”
Tickets will cost $10 for adults and $8 for military, students and seniors. Seating will be general admission. There will be standard concessions, like popcorn and candy, as well as coffee, tea, beer and wine.
The theater’s name is a reference to the film term “greenlight,” a verb that gives permission to go forward with a project. It’s also a nod to the green light that symbolizes hope in the novel The Great Gatsby.
Green Light Cinema is an important step as St. Petersburg continues to grow as an art city, said Chris Eaton, programming and marketing director of the Sunscreen Film Festival.
“I know there’s a lot of people who are very excited about this because there’s been an interest in arts theater in the area for a long time," Eaton said.
St. Petersburg film enthusiasts usually have to see indie and foreign productions at places that aren’t dedicated movie theaters, like the Dali Museum, Studio 620 or the Palladium, Eaton said. And of the five international Oscar nominees this year, only Parasite was shown in St. Petersburg.
“Film is the one art form that nearly every person in the United States has experienced ... and yet we don’t have a consistent venue for indie films and foreign films,” he said.
Eaton is excited to have a place where he can revive monthly Sunscreen Shorts Series, screenings of 70-minute blocks of short films. He also hopes to see local filmmakers have a space to share their projects.
Hazlett is open to “having conversations with anyone who wants to use the theater."
"Small filmmakers, festival people, special events,” he said. "The idea is to kind of fold this into the fabric of the community.”