“There really has been a Laemmle in the film business ever since there has been a film business.”
Those words spoken by Laemmle Theaters chain co-owner Greg Laemmle in the new documentary film, “Only in Theaters,” are true. Carl Laemmle, the film producer and co-founder of Universal Pictures, is known as one of the pioneers of Hollywood. His nephews Kurt and Max Laemmle established Laemmle Theaters in 1938, and now, Greg Laemmle — Max’s grandson — runs the theater chain with his dad, Robert Laemmle.
“Only in Theaters,” a film by Raphael Sbarge, tells the story of a family business, but also, as the tagline reads, “the future of cinema.”
Greg Laemmle spoke to The Signal on Thursday about the new documentary and the history of Laemmle Theaters. He said the public is invited to two special screenings of the film, which includes Q&A sessions with him following the credits, at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Laemmle’s Newhall 7 on Lyons Avenue in Old Town Newhall.
“We come across a lot of filmmakers, and many of them have often said, ‘You know, someone should make a documentary about Laemmle Theaters,’” Greg Laemmle said. “Raphael was the first person that came and said, ‘I’m going to make the documentary about Laemmle Theaters if you’ll let me.’ And so, I liked that confidence.”
According to the theater chain co-owner, the documentary film crew began shooting in early 2019 and wrapped around mid-2021. As production of the film and that first year progressed, movie theater ticket sales in general were dropping, he said, and the family had been considering the sale of the chain. Just before 2020, they decided to keep the theater, as they’d then began seeing a rejuvenation in theatergoing.
“None of us knew,” Greg Laemmle said, “that what in theory was going to be a historical piece about this three-generation, 80-plus-year family business would actually turn into something different.”
The global pandemic would hit shortly after the family decided not to sell, and Laemmle Theaters would shut down for over 13 months along with all the other movie houses around the world while experiencing the effects of COVID-19, he said.
“I mean, frankly,” he added, “even before the pandemic, one part of the film was also in 2019 when we were considering whether we were going to have to sell the company or not.”
The documentary, which features interviews with the likes of film historian Leonard Maltin and filmmakers Cameron Crowe and Allison Anders, also explores movie theater competition with video streaming services, which some believe to be a major factor in past declines of movie theater attendance.
“I’m not 100% convinced that streaming is really the enemy here,” Greg Laemmle said. “I think the more complex answer is that there was just a general slowdown in revenue due to a lack of quality films.”
And that’s where Laemmle Theaters comes in. The chain prides itself in offering more than just the typical mainstream movie selection. According to the company’s website, the Laemmle family is dedicated to “supporting, innovating and elevating the art of filmmaking.” The chain does so by showing foreign films, independent films and documentaries, in addition to the mainstream films that audiences find at the big multiplexes.
The Santa Clarita Valley only recently welcomed Laemmle to the area when the chain opened the Newhall 7 on April 9, 2021. Nearly 100 people showed up to the grand opening.
Bill Miranda, the mayor of the city of Santa Clarita at the time, said, “I am thrilled to be here this morning for the ribbon cutting and opening of the Laemmle Theater. This is an exciting day, not just for the Laemmle Theater, but for all of Old Town Newhall, the premier arts and entertainment district in our city.”
Greg Laemmle, while not an owner of the documentary “Only in Theaters,” also had no say in the finished product. However, he said he’s very pleased with how it all turned out.
“I’m supporting the release, obviously,” he added, “and I do think it is something that sends a message about how great moviegoing is, how important it is for the cultural fabric, the fabric of our communities. Hopefully it will inspire people to get back to the movies.”
Laemmle’s Newhall 7 is located at 22500 Lyons Ave. in Old Town Newhall. For more information about the theater chain or movie showings, go to Laemmle.com. For more information about “Only in Theaters,” go to OnlyInTheaters.com.