Community theater: The Frida Cinema
A colorful line of movie posters, new and old alike, decorate the front walls of The Frida Cinema, where it sits quietly amongst the Santa Ana 4th Street hustle and bustle.
The hanging posters range from the recent dramatic release “Son of Saul” to comedy classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” According to Frida manager Frank Unzueta, this is not unusual.
Unzueta explains that they want a program for everyone, from new weekly arthouse releases to family-oriented Sunday matinees. They also plan larger events, like their extremely popular midnight screenings of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“We have a mixture of everything,” said Unzueta.
This variety in The Frida’s programming is due to the emphasis of community for the theater. The Frida, which got its name from famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, is trying to keep a love of the arts alive and spread that passion throughout the local community.
“We program big things like ‘Rocky Horror’ a month ahead. We get really large crowds for those,” said Unzueta.
This sense of community that The Frida has cultivated is what keeps junior screenwriting major Jacob Walker going back. “The Frida has a certain charm to it. When I’ve gone there, it’s usually a small crowd of people around my age. But they are all very optimistic about film.”
Walker described how, at a screening of the 2014 indie vampire movie “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”, it was raining and water was leaking in from the roof during the screening. “There were buckets carefully placed everywhere in the theater and [there was] a constant sound as the buckets filled during the movie. But it was really endearing. One of the volunteers was just going around and apologizing to everyone in the theater for the leak.”
Ben Hyde, junior screenwriting major, shared one of his experiences at The Frida seeing the 2013 German film “Wetlands” where he was the only person attending the screening.
“I was fifteen minutes late, but they hadn’t started the movie because I was the only one who had bought a ticket,” Hyde recalled. “When I showed up I talked to the guy working there about movies for ten minutes and then the guy said, ‘Oh, want to watch the movie now?’ Then I headed into the theater as he started the movie for me.”
The communal theater-going experience, for film professor Maja Manojlovic, is an important aspect of the experience and has an impact on the movie itself. She described how drastically different it can be seeing a movie in a theater with a large group of people, compared to watching a movie alone at home. “It’s amazing how much that affects your experience of the film. It’s almost as if you are watching a different movie.”
Alberto Achar, junior film studies major, feels the same. “I think it does have an effect, that you will enjoy the movie more seeing it in theaters than just at home or on a phone screen.”
This emphasis on community is ingrained in the theater’s business model as well. The Frida operates as a non-profit business, which means that while the theater does rely on tickets sales, it also relies on volunteers, donations and local business partnerships to keep operating.
This reliance on community members is also seen in the building itself, with different aspects of the building paid for with funds raised by local organizations. One such example is the marquee, paid for with funds raised by Gay Neighbors, Friends, and Families of Santa Ana.
Walking by The Frida, it would be easy to mistake it for one of the many theaters in the area that have been converted into churches. It is not the prettiest theater in the world, but that’s not what’s important for the Jacob Walkers, the Ben Hydes, or the “Rocky Horror” fans that embrace The Frida. For them, it’s their very own “Cheers”. A place where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.