Athena Cinema Reopens, With A Little Help From Its Friends

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — After a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Athena Cinema has reopened its doors to the public.

The pandemic took a heavy toll on theaters across the country, and many small art-house theaters in particular, like the Athena, struggled to survive. Some didn’t.

But the Athena benefited from an outpouring of community support, and were a big part of the theater’s reopening. A group of individuals started a crowdfunding campaign in June called, “Lights! Camera! Action!: The Campaign to Reopen the Athena Cinema,” who wanted to find a way to support the theater’s comeback. At first, the fundraising goal was set at $5,000 but then raised to $10,000.  

Director of the Athena Cinema, Alexandra Kamody, said, “We launched it thinking we had a nice goal but we just met that so quickly and then we raised it!” The campaign raised over $16,500 in less than a month. 

“We have real expenses that the money will help with. There’s a lot of projects that have not been completed because of the lack of revenue coming in. When you go from multiple sellout events and hundreds of screenings in a month, to no one being able to come in the doors, it was a big hit,” Kamody said. 

The $10,000 will cover the expenses to reopen the theater. And the extra money will be used towards projects, such as purchasing new light bulbs for the screen projectors. 

The staff was energized to see that the community wanted the Athena to reopen just as much as they did. “It was a really big boost in our desire to get this place back open and find a way to get people in here,” Kamody said.

During the closure, the Athena completed a full renovation and worked with the Ohio University’s Covid Operations to safely host virtual and in-person events. 

“The staff and I were constantly consumed with how we could pivot and change things so we could react to the constant changes,” Kamody said. “Putting our private rentals into effect was a big thing and establishing a safe way to still bring in small groups of people and to get them in front of the screens.”

The Athena is owned by the university and most of the staff is made up of students employed through the federal work-study program. During the closure, the students were employed virtually, where they could choose to participate in multiple tracks and projects, which allowed them to complete hours and stay employed. The production track involved creating short videos about the theater and the programming track involved creating and planning different series. 

However, at the beginning of the closure, lots of staff members graduated and the hiring process was stalled. But it was a blessing in disguise. “We retained a small, very committed group where we planned the reopening and did our virtual sustainability series we had last year. We plan on bringing back more staff members but we loved how close and dedicated the staff was during the closure,” Kamody said. 

Now that it’s reopened, the Athena can return to screening documentaries, independent movies, classics, and international and local films.

“One of the number one reasons why the Athena is important to the community is because we show films that wouldn’t otherwise be shown in this region,” Kamody said. “Our goal is to give those stories a place to be seen.”

The team is eager to resume in-person showings and get back to doing what they love: serving the community and meeting new people.    

“My favorite part is all the people I’ve met and all the relationships I’ve built through the theater,” said Athena employee Kris Shortridge. “You know you have your regulars come in and you see them everyday. I met one of my best friends working here.”

For information on screenings, events and hours, go to Upcoming screenings include “Promising Young Woman,” opening July 23, and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” opening July 30.