A conversation with the guys behind Corktown Cinema


By Patrick Smith

It has been a hard, frustrating few years since The Burton Theatre in Detroit was forced to close its doors due to a dispute with its landlord. Since then we here at the Spine have been following the ups and downs of their quest to find a permanent home with the same anticipation and attachment as the rest of Detroit. Now it looks like our days of waiting may soon be over. But first you have to go vote for Corktown Cinema in the Hatch Detroit contest. Like right now, go vote on Facebook and at Hatch.com, then wait 24 hours and one minute and do it again. Repeat until August 29.

And you need to do this everyday because Corktown Cinema is proof that all the nice stuff you want to believe about Detroit is true.

During its too-brief run, The Burton was the sort of place people are talking about when they talk about the possibilities of Detroit. Too often all that bluster about the freedom and space to make what you want of the world just ends with Dutch people buying shitty houses, but the people behind the Burton actually took an old school and turned it into a really special place to watch movies. And then they showed incredible and unique films there. The Burton wasn’t just about having a movie theatre in Detroit that was like theatres in other cities, it was about having one that was better. Which is the idea after all, right?

Any confusion or frustration felt by fans of the former Burton, now Corktown is understandable. For a long time it looked like they had a spot in an exciting new complex in Corktown (hence the new name) but that development has hit some snags. It is understandable that people set themselves up for failure, or brace for expected disappointment. But the Corktown guys haven’t stopped working. Since the Burton closed, Brandon Walley joined Jeff Else as a part owner. Walley was the director of the Detroit Film Center and is a filmmaker himself, so he brings valuable knowledge and perspective to the operation.

This week both Else and Walley answered some questions for the Spine. Their edited answers are below.

Woodward Spine: The Hatch contest winner gets $50,000. What are you going to do with the money?

Brandon Walley: Corktown Cinema will become a reality. It has become a singular mission for Jeff and I. Winning Hatch Detroit will put us on the fast track to purchasing the building that will be a perfect fit for us in Corktown. Having our own space as oppose to renting, as was the case with Burton Theatre, will allow us to do everything Burton did but on steroids. So much more opportunity to have unique programming and events that aren’t offered in Detroit currently.
Jeff Else: We will be using the $50,000 in conjunction with some private investment we have committed towards the purchasing of a building to house the cinema, and the expenses involved in adapting the space.
WS: Why should people vote for you?
BW: We are offering something that is singularly unique to Detroit right now. Anyone that lives in the city knows that going to see a movie usually means driving to the suburbs. But mainly, we will offer programming that isn’t even offered anywhere in Michigan. Major cities in the US have options for unique cinema, we’ll bring it to Detroit but also do it better than most. Basically, we’re all friends working towards the same goal… cinema not otherwise offered in Detroit. The mantra remains.
JE: We think watching movies in a social setting (with a beer maybe) is an essential part of any vibrant community.  As anyone who lives in the city can tell you, far too often seeing a movie involves going to the suburbs.  There are only 4 functioning movie theatres in the city, most of them on the outskirts.  We think that’s tragic.  Also, we’ve proved that this idea works.  We were open for almost two years as the Burton Theatre, and developed a loyal following when we were forced to close due to a dispute with our landlord.  We have card-carrying members.. Detroit wants this.
WS: What else you guys working on beyond this contest?
JE: Well we’ve been working hard towards finding a suitable building for the cinema, which is a bit more challenging than just finding your average storefront, that’s really been our focus this year.  We kept up a fairly consistent pop-up schedule after the Burton closed, but we’re really trying hard to find a permanent home now.
BW: Beyond my role as Program Director for Corktown, I’m lucky that I get the opportunity to program (when asked) for other organizations. I’m curating the next Mothlight Cinema here in Detroit, which is a really great outlet for avant garde cinema (bridging the gap until CC opens.) Programming at Nightingale Microcinema in Chicago this fall and continuing to be the regional programmer for Media City in Canada.
Then, well I’m a filmmaker. Keep working. Hopefully my first feature, loosely based on the Detroit music scene, will be done by the end of the year.
WS: It has been a while since you closed, what has been going on since then? Why the hold up?
JE: Oh boy, so many things.  We had been working with some developers from New York for about a year and a half to be part of a big complex of independent retail, food etc.. they are doing in Corktown, but their development hit some snags and is sort of in limbo.  Earlier this year we were in a prolonged bidding war for a building that we ultimately lost.  So, you know, just mundane stuff, but we’ve been working hard all the while to make it happen, and there’s no stopping us.
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About pksmid

Reporter based in Chicago, focusing on the Brazilian community in Chicago and news from South America.
This entry was posted in Detroit, Film Reviews, Things To Do, TV/Film and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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