Nightlight commits to a “year of Akron cinema”

by Ken Evans

Disclaimer: The following is a work of realistic fiction for our special 2050 issue, published in June 2021. These stories are meant to spark imagination, not forecast the future of Akron. 

Starting in July, The Nightlight Cinema is committing to a year of showing only movies filmed or produced in Akron or Summit County at its main downtown Akron theater. The cinema nonprofit will also offer additional showings of local films across its four other theaters including the Nightlight Drive-In at Portage Lakes. This commitment represents over five hundred shows across five theaters and signals a new era for the maturing and innovative film community in Akron, Ohio. 

“We have been working to build a community around film in Akron since 2014 and this is a way for us to honor that commitment,” says Moby Darin, Director of The Nightlight Cinema. “We have so much talent here in Akron and so many amazing creators that we decided to commit to this year as a way to showcase and celebrate our community.”

Over the past fifteen years, the quality and number of films produced in Akron have grown exponentially. For example, according to Akron-Summit County Public Library records, in 2035 just ten films created in Akron reached international audiences. However, just last year in 2049 the area released 202 films to theaters around the world. 

Click here to read more content from our 2050 issue.

According to actor Zach De Nardi, the creator of Akron’s Blanket Fort Media, “The idea that Akron could be a center of film production would have seemed absurd even just twenty years ago.” 

But that is all different now.

The catalyst for this change occurred after the almost complete collapse of the Hollywood-based film industry following the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. As audiences increasingly switched to home streaming services, studios and theatres began to struggle. 

“The whole industry tanked in 2028 and everyone had to change what they were doing,” says De Nardi. The result of this downturn was a Hollywood that took fewer risks and invested in fewer new ideas. 

Critics increasingly bemoaned the play-it-safe attitude that resulted in bland uninspired films motivated by profit rather than the quality of their storytelling. 

While this has always been a criticism leveled against Hollywood, most industry professionals agree the 2030s may have been the worst decade in cinema history. “The release of Grown Ups 14 was a particularly dark day for movie lovers,” De Nardi says exasperated. 

In this vacuum, local filmmakers started to fill the gap. Not only did the audience get more creative content from local productions but they also got more films told from an Akron perspective. 

“Over the past decade the most popular films at the Nightlight have been about Akron, our struggles, our triumphs, our eccentricities,” says Darin. 

Furthering this translation were technological advances that allowed small teams of creators to make blockbuster caliber films. Much in the same way that new technologies changed who could produce music in the 2010s.

“Many of Akron’s most prominent filmmakers started out using their cell phones to make Tik Tok and YouTube videos. What their parents saw as goofing off became careers and meaningful art for many,” says De Nardi

With obstacles removed, a renaissance has occurred in Akron and other cities throughout the Midwest. Small, locally based teams could now execute projects that used to take millions of dollars and hundreds of people. This change has not only brought a new industry to Akron but a new way of sharing the city with the world. 

Most of all though, according to Darin, this change created more community around film in Akron. 

“When you can have the actual people that made the film discuss it before or after the showing, audiences get a deeper and more communal experience,” Darin says. ““Ultimately, that is why the Nightlight was created, to bring Akron together around a shared appreciation of film,” says Darin. 

Darin explained the Year of Akron Cinema will share a whole range of films from established companies to amateur first-time creators and will feature a combination of old and new productions. “This year is not just about showing local movies but showcasing what this community can do when it comes together and creates.”

The Year of Akron Cinema will open with a gala at the Nightlight’s downtown location on Friday, July 1st for Nightlight members. In addition to food and drink the evening will also showcase film shorts by University of Akron film students. 

For July, the Nightlight will premiere four new films. 

July 2nd to July 15th

“Roselawn,” produced by Blanket Fort Media and based on the work of local poet Brooke Horne explores the lives of working-class families trying to overcome poverty and racism in Akron during the housing and eviction crisis of the early twenty-first century. 

“Caucho,” from Wingfoot Light and Magic, tells the story of a giant oozing and tentacled rubber monster that tries to destroy Akron. Set in the late 1970s, “Caucho” is inspired by the monster movies of the 1950s and seeks to show what Akron lost as economic priorities changed. 

July 16th to July 31st

“Akron Made,” is a documentary from the Potier Sisters, highlighting the history of Akron’s economic revival in the 2030s as the city invested in green manufacturing, safe nuclear energy, airship production and creative placemaking.

“The Barberton Horrors Vol. 1” from Rubber Ball Productions and based on the local comic book series of the same name. Paying homage to horror classics, the film centers around a group of ninth-graders trying to stop a murderous child possessed by a demon after he dons an old Sun Rubber Co. Mickey Mouse Gas Mask. 

Ken Evans finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.

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