HOLLYWOOD, California – For the past three years, Christian Meoli has made the dream come true, showing independent films and cult favorites at his small cinema, the Arena Cinelounge, in the heart of Hollywood.
“When the lights go out and it says ‘Feature Presentation’, it’s the magical time,” he told Spectrum News 1.
But these days, Meoli takes some of his favorite Hollywood icons off the screen and moves them straight to his seats, placing two cardboard cutouts of the film’s most iconic figures for each empty seat.
“We can only allow 15 people per screening when we first open, so I thought it would be a good idea to bring some Hollywood seat fillers,” he said.
The idea came from a nearby mural on Hollywood Boulevard, with movie legends like Charlie Chaplin, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe in a theater.
“Movies are about getting together and bringing people together and whether we can even offer the illusion of a full house in this short time,” he said. “I like it and the audience will embrace it.”
In recent weeks, Meoli has been busy preparing for its grand reopening, installing new air purifiers, a contactless cash register, and even prepackaged concessions.
It was supposed to open a week ago, but at the last minute, Los Angeles County changed course, with the exception of reopening theaters.
“We’re all like,” What’s going on here? We don’t understand, ” he said. “You can get a tattoo, you can go to a nail salon, you can go to a massage parlor, I did all this weekend by the way, and you can’t go to the cinema?”
He hoped to debut with a new IFC movie called Baby teeth. But government rules took a bite out of that plan. Same with another movie he had ready to go, a restored version of the 1988 movie, The unbearable lightness of being. The light also went out.
But this Friday they are back in all their glory.
“It will be such a great feeling when the audience is back,” he said.
If ticket sales are any indication, many of them will. His shows are already sold out.
“People want to come back to movie theaters.”
Meoli knows that a last-minute call from health officials could delay a new opening. LA County told Spectrum News 1 that it was still monitoring the situation before setting the correct date for reopening. But Meoli says he is hopeful.
“We want people to come back and join us for the movie experience,” he said. “It is the best.”