Manager Tom Ranieri estimates the main auditorium's current seats—dingy and not terribly comfortable—are about 60 years old. "We can't get parts, we weld the springs together, they make noise," Ranieri says. "I've known for a long time that we've needed new seats."
The recent buildout of Cinema 21's two smaller auditoriums—one seats 80; the other about 50—cost in the high six figures; Ranieri declined to offer specifics. That put the theater into what Ranieri calls "a prudent amount of debt," and it pushed him to Kickstarter. The crowdfunding site has worked for other local movie houses: The Hollywood Theatre recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for a new marquee.
New seats will offer benefits beyond greater comfort for moviegoers, Ranieri says. They'll also make Cinema 21 more competitive in acquiring films. "Distributors want to know that your theater is state-of-the-art," Ranieri says. "They want to make sure that places where they put their movies reach a certain level of comfort and are up to present standards."
Ranieri also sees this as his contribution to the longevity of the theater where he's worked for more than 30 years. "If this theater is to exist over time, you have to look towards the future to see where it's going and what needs to be done," he says. "If I want this 88-year-old theater to reach 100—with the very real possibility that I will not be the one operating it in 12 years—then I have to equip it to be competitive and thrive."
Some of the rewards for pledging? $1,000 gets you lunch with reclusive local filmmaker Gus Van Sant. Dinner with Savage Love columnist Dan Savage, meanwhile, is $1,500.