Local cinema pumps inspiration into the community
In the middle of a hip bar and coffee shop on El Cajon Boulevard sits Digital Gym Cinema. Geared with quality films and a passion for creative expression, the space provides a unique experience not found in commercial theaters. Since opening in April 2013, it’s quickly becoming a go-to hub for both movie fans and aspiring filmmakers.
The organization behind Digital Gym Cinema is the Media Arts Center San Diego. It grew out of the San Diego Latino Film Festival, an annual event led by MACSD founder Ethan van Thillo, in order to further educate and promote the media arts to community members who lack the resources.
“I was part of the organization back in 2000 to 2007 and then I returned now,” MACSD Exhibitions Director Phil Lorenzo said. “My commitment now has been reaching to the community in a genuine, earnest way through media arts such as film, music — all the ways that create gateways through culture.”
Before it moved to its current location on El Cajon Boulevard, MACSD resided at a converted house in Golden Hills. As the organization grew, it needed more space to facilitate its programs. The new location at the heart of many communities, such as University Heights, Normal Heights and City Heights, which allows MACSD to keep close attention to its needs
“We are at a fascinating place.” Lorenzo said. “We are witnessing, from our side, a community in transition. This community is growing not just in economic variance but certainly in ethnic variance. That’s an important thing to have a pulse on.”
MACSD opened its cinema last April. The space resembles a casual rec center with its cozy lounge at the lobby. Watching a movie in its small, intimate theater feels like a private screening at a buddy’s house. The friendly atmosphere provides a relaxing alternative to the crowded hustle of a commercial theater.
Besides the space, the cinema’s film selection trumps the usual AMCs and Regal Cinemas. Every week or so, it rotates around a choice of independent or international films not commonly found anywhere else. Just in the coming weeks, it will screen Mexican punk-band comedy “Somos Mari Pepa” and domestic indie “Camp X-Ray,” which stars actress Kristen Stewart as a Guantanamo Bay guard.
“It’s just about finding films that’s not shown often enough in a public space,” Lorenzo said. “You want to be that place where people can go, not just watch films on Netflix at home. We want people to come here, watch it together and have a conversation after. That’s the most powerful part of our films: We can have conversations about the content we just watched.”
Along with movie screenings, Digital Gym Cinema offers workshops for aspiring filmmakers to hone in techniques and improve their craft. It also provides a space to complete their projects. After the production is done, they can show their finished work in the theater in front of a live audience. For those who may not necessarily have the means, Digital Gym provides the resources and platform needed to achieve their goal.
Digital Gym Cinema reaches its education of film making to the youth as well. The cinema is currently holding registration for a fall K-12 camp that teaches kids how to communicate their ideas using the basic tools and techniques of media arts. Campers get to learn how to use equipment and software to help get their message across.
“We teach them on the fundamentals of filming, editing and sound design.” Lorenzo said. “But at the end of the day, most important tool and things to be teaching young people is to initiate storytelling and how to initiate good storytelling techniques through additional media.”
The cinema is a friendly new neighbor of El Cajon Boulevard as it sits in between the Tiger! Tiger! tavern and Coffee and Tea Collective cafe. Perhaps some have peeked into the building during a visit to one of the two. Though it might look like an ordinary community center, it’s more than it looks. Whether it’s through film screenings or film production workshops, Digital Gym Cinema provides an exciting social space for visitors to interact with the community at large.