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‘Only in Theaters,’ The History of Laemmle Theaters, Opens Today

The documentary chronicles the history, impact, and challenges of the 84-year-old arthouse cinema chain, which has elevated the art of filmmaking and brought foreign films to Los Angeles while popularizing independent films, documentary films, and their makers.

Opening today, November 18, the documentary film Only in Theaters chronicles the Laemmle Theatres, a beloved 84-year-old arthouse cinema chain in Los Angeles that’s facing seismic change and downward pressure. Yet, the family behind this multigenerational business – whose sole mission has been to support the art of film – is determined to see it survive. The movie runs through November 23 across multiple Laemmle theater screens.

As a publication dedicated to the art of animation, it is with particular interest that AWN notes the opening of this film that highlights a local cinema chain that has been a platform for promoting foreign and indie films, including animation, for decades.

"As a company, we've always understood that part of our mission is to provide opportunities for filmmakers to show their work in the filmmaking capital of the world,” shared Laemmle president, Greg Laemmle. “And that absolutely includes animated films of all shapes and sizes. I remember seeing Bruno Bozzetto's Allegro non Troppo on our screens as a kid, and credit that (in part) to a lifelong love of classical music.  But I also remember programming midnight shows of SPIKE & MIKE'S SICK & TWISTED FESTIVAL OF ANIMATION, where Mike Judge first introduced the world to Beavis & Butthead in his short, Frog Baseball."

For animation aficionados, Laemmle has often offered the only place outside of faraway festivals to see animated feature gems, such as Lamya’s Poem (currently screening) and animation used in avant-garde filmmaking and documentaries (as seen now in the graphic Eternal Spring). The theater was, indeed, the first to show Pixar’s now-iconic Luxo Jr.  

The documentary film shares the story of the two European immigrant brothers (who happened to be the cousins of famed movie mogul Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures) who escaped fascist Germany in 1938, right before World War II. They came to America and opened a movie theater. By the 1960s, the dynamic Laemmle family owned and operated six theaters in Los Angeles, developing an outsized influence on cinema.

Over four generations, the Laemmle family has dedicated themselves to supporting, innovating, and elevating the art of filmmaking. It is largely responsible for bringing foreign films to Los Angeles, popularizing independent films, documentary films, and their makers.

Today, the Laemmle circuit of theaters has faced unprecedented challenges in a world of conglomeration and streaming, under the shadow of a pandemic.

Filmed over two years, director Raphael Sbarge was given complete access, and editorial control, over this family's most turbulent time in 85 years of doing business. With appearances from Cameron Crowe, Ava DuVernay, James Ivory, Nicole Holofcener, and Alison Anders, Only In Theaters is both a state-of-industry film for insiders and a love letter to cinema for a general audience, as well as an irresistible story of a multigenerational American family. The film is further enhanced with appearances from critics, writers, and filmmakers Edward Goldman, Kevin Thomas, Kenneth Turan, Bruce Joel Rubin, Leonard Maltin, Ross Melnick, Michael Renov, and Mark Ulano.

Watch the trailer:

Debbie Diamond Sarto's picture

Debbie Diamond Sarto is news editor at Animation World Network.