A Different Look at the Bijou Art Cinemas


The Bijou Art Cinemas is a local staple in Eugene. My enterprise takes a look at what it’s like to be a part of it from the inside.

Backgrounder

In the area of Eugene, Oregon, there are plenty of places between the Valley River Center, the Gateway Mall, and the campus district for the residents to go see a movie, but no other theater can offer the experience that the Bijou Art Cinema provides. The Bijou, located on 13th Avenue near the University of Oregon campus and close to downtown, plays mostly independent or art films. Currently the Bijou is showing films such as “Hyde Park On Hudson”, “West of Memphis”, and “56 Up”. The Bijou is known for showing movies that don’t usually play in big company theaters such as the Regal Cinemas in Valley River Center or the Cinemark 17 in the Gateway Mall. The theater has been open since 1980 and has only two screens at their current campus location.

When the original owner of the Bijou passed away in 2007, three employees and an investor from New York came together to buy the theater and save it from its impending closing and have owned it since 2009. Since then, the investor from New York has relocated to Eugene and along with the other three owners they are now the backbone to the theater as they not only own the place but also manage it as well as working there along with three other employees. Now almost four years later, the owners are building a new location in Downtown Eugene that will have four screens and be able to cater to a lot more movies and festivals. The Bijou is home to several large festivals such as the annual Cinema Pacific Film Festival put on by the University of Oregon.

According to various reviews on the popular website Yelp, the local feel of the Bijou is what appeals to customers most and they say that they love the environment that the employees provide because it makes them feel like they are at home. While the current Bijou may only have two screens, it has a lobby that is full of space for customers to interact with each other before and after screenings and a fully stocked concession stand that has everything from chai tea to hot dogs. Their concession stand also strives to use mostly locally made products to try and support the local business in Eugene and Springfield.

The Bijou appeals to all audiences as it plays movies from most genres. Students may go because they like the pricing and they want to see the more independent films while senior citizens can go to see an old favorite of theirs return to the big screen. The Bijou can be home to anyone and it gives everyone an enjoyable experience as they are able to come and see a new film for the first time or one that is returning for a limited time.

Profile: Michelle Nordella

Michelle Nordella stands behind the concession stand awaiting the customers at the Bijou Art Cinemas in Eugene, Oregon.

Michelle Nordella stands behind the concession stand awaiting the customers at the Bijou Art Cinemas in Eugene, Oregon.

Posters promoting the movies shown hang on the walls in the lobby and an overwhelming smell of popcorn emanates from behind the concession stands. It’s 2:45 on a Thursday afternoon and a line of people is already stretching out the door as people wait to be let in for the showing of “Hyde Park On Hudson”.

On the bench next to the concessions sits Michelle Nordella, a long time employee of the Bijou Art Cinemas in Eugene, Oregon, and as she wraps up the last of her sandwich and says, “I need to eat now before the crowd gets here and it starts getting busy.”

Nordella, a 31-year-old Eugenean who attended Lane Community College for broadcast, started working at the Bijou in the fall of 2009 after her boyfriend had gotten a job at the theater. He told her that the small, two-screen arts theater was looking for a projectionist. She applied and was given the job almost immediately. Now her boyfriend is one of four owners of the Bijou that employs Nordella and two others to help maintain the theater.

Nordella has worked with movies since 2000 when she started at the Regal Cinemas in the Valley River Center, a local mall. She says that she loves being able to work with film and share her enthusiasm with others. Nodella says the first thing that drew her to the Bijou was that it was a “local place with a little bit more style and a little bit more heart.”

This Bijou has been open since 1980 and sits on 13th and Ferry, just a few blocks away from the University of Oregon campus. The building is a retired church and because of that it helps provide a non-traditional movie watching experience.

Nordella is passionate about the Bijou and says that her least favorite part about working there is that people don’t come to see films. The slow crowd makes her upset because she believes in the potential of these movies and knows how great they are. When she would work at Regal Cinemas she says that she would come do the Bijou to watch movies because “we’d have the blockbuster movies at the big theater, but these would be like the good movies, the intellectual movies, the artsy ones that you don’t get to see anywhere else.”

She also notes that the biggest difference between Regal Cinemas and the Bijou are the attitude of customers. She says now that she is in a locally owned place, people are more understanding when something goes wrong and don’t seem so demanding. The customers at the Bijou seem to care about the employees, and she says that the interaction with the customers is one of the best things about working here. Nordella says that because the Bijou is locally owned and because all four owners work in the theater, it is easier for her to be herself and actually give her true opinion on a film when a customer asks.

With the new location of the Bijou set to open in April of this year, Nordella is very excited and says that it will be great for business. “There is quite a buzz,” she says. “People are really excited about it. I hope that they will show up.” She also notes that the downtown area is turning into something “pretty cool” and that the Bijou will fit in perfectly there.

Nordella expresses her love for the Bijou and says that the great environment is caused because everyone who works there is genuinely happy to be there and help out. She says there is not one job that a specific person does but rather everyone does everything and that’s what helps make them such a great team.

As the clock rolls closer to 3, Nordella walks behind the concession stand and is ready for the customers as they start coming in. She manages to fill four popcorns, one hot dog, three large sodas, and a chai tea before the rush dies down and she is able to relax. “Now we sit and wait for the next rush.”

Q & A: Larissa Ennis

Larissa Ennis is the operations manager for the Cinema Pacific Film Festival that is put on by the University of Oregon every year. She can be reached by email at lenis at uoregon dot edu.

TM: How did you first get involved with Cinema Pacific?

LE: In 2010 I was working as a program coordinator with University of Oregon Continuing Education (later changed to its current title of UO Academic Extension). I was also working on a PhD in film studies. Richard Herskowitz proposed a film festival focusing on the Pacific Rim, and as a self-support program (and an outreach program of the university), it was assigned to Academic Extension to develop and implement. When it became clear that there was enough funding to do the festival, I was assigned as program coordinator to help implement the festival—process paperwork for venue rental, guests, films, etc; coordinate logistics such as event planning, and develop publicity materials within existing AE systems. I was brought on 45 days before the first festival, and miraculously we were able to make it happen!

When did the festival’s relationship with the Bijou start?

We have used the Bijou as our main festival venue since the first year (2010).

How does that relationship with the Bijou help the festival?

The Bijou is owned and managed by fantastic people, and they not only provide top-notch support, but bring an established film-going audience to the relationship. The cost of renting the venue is reasonable, and they are the only theater in town that will still exhibit in 35mm, which is the only format available for some of our films. Further, while Cinema Pacific draws in folks who might not normally go to a film at the Bijou, our audiences overlap to a significant extent, so they give us visibility and extend our appeal to their existing clientele.

When did you personally first start getting involved with films in general, not just with Cinema Pacific? 

I have been an avid watcher of films since childhood, but I have studied film academically since my undergraduate days at Washington State University. I came to Eugene for the Master’s degree in English, and stayed for my PhD in film studies. I enjoy the academic study of film, but film programming is a whole other side—I’ve learned a lot about the film industry, festivals, and event planning in my 4 years working on the Cinema Pacific Film Festival.

What does your job with the festival entail?

I am the operations manager, so I set in motion and manage all the processes and resources that make the festival happen. I contact venues, film distributors, and guests, and make arrangements for their participation in the festival—from renting a room to show a film, to making sure the film print gets here on time for showing and that we have the paperwork in order to pay for the film rental, to reserving a hotel room and airfare for a guest so they can do a Q&A after the film.

I hire and supervise our graphic designer, and coordinate the workflow of all our publicity materials (minus the website), making sure all our publications are compliant with the (very meticulous) UO Style Guide, that we have credited sponsors accurately, that the final pieces look good, and that there is a distribution mechanism in place for the printed items. For purchased marketing pieces (e.g. an ad in the Eugene Weekly), I request that the ad be purchased, track the production of the ad, and make sure it gets to the publication by the deadline.

I coordinate with UO Ticketing (and any special venues, like the Shedd, that have their own ticketing services), to sell tickets online and at the festival venues. Along with the festival director, a student intern, and our operations assistant, I plan all our special events that take place during the festival, like our Adrenaline Film Project afterparty and the Fringe Festival Fiesta. Basically, my job entails making all the great ideas that the festival director and the student interns come up with *happen*.

What is your favorite part about the festival?

My favorite aspect of the festival is probably working with the student interns. It’s such a great experience to have so many talented individuals work alongside you for months, to make this festival happen, and then to feel like we really made something unique out of thin air! Plus I get to know them really well, and I’ve become really good friends with a number of our former interns. They inspire me and I love to mentor them.

How does student involvement help with the festival?

The festival only has two professional staff: the festival director, Richard Herskowitz, and me. Student interns make up the rest of our staff, and we would not exist without them! They help plan events and publicity, engage the community (both UO and Eugene) in conversations surrounding the program, work to secure donations, and plan and implement the Adrenaline Film Project, a program of Cinema Pacific. The festival would not exist without our student interns.

How long does it take to prepare for the festival?

The student interns begin in January of the festival year, so we have about 3.5 months to plan and implement. The director works year-round, and I do some off-season work in support, mostly sending out e-newsletters.

How do you celebrate once the festival is over?

Catch up on sleep. Actually we have a staff party at Richard’s house to discuss what went well and what we should do differently the following year. That’s pretty fun.

What makes the Cinema Pacific Festival so unique?

I guess what’s unique about the festival is that despite having only 2 staff people (one of whom is part-time), we manage to design, plan, and implement 5 days of rich film programming, fun parties, and intriguing conversations with only 3 months of lead time. It’s pretty amazing that it all comes together in the end.

This years festival will run from April 16 through the 20th. Tickets can be purchased online at the official festival website and the schedule of movies played can be found here.

Audio Slideshow: A Day at the Bijou with Michelle Nordella

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