When walking around downtown Lake Worth, one can stumble on many eclectic and unique places. Unconventional coffee shops with live music, specialty comic book stores that host gamers nights and small conventions for aficionados are some of the unusual sights of Lake Avenue.
The Lake Worth Playhouse is without question one of the most attractive landmarks in the area. Once known as the Oakley Theater, it provides theatrical entertainment not only for the Lake Worth community, but also for people who come from as far as Broward or Manalapan to see a performance play or a musical.
However, the Playhouse boasts an additional attractive feature in a small one-story building next door, fitted with a yellow door and bright blue painted walls. The Stonzek Theater is the Playhouse’s independent film venue that screens two different indie features every week, and is open seven days a week.
Charlie Birnbaum, manager of the Stonzek since 2011, describes the venue as a place that caters to a niche audience of moviegoers in South Florida. “The people that come here are people that want to see a different kind of film” Birnbaum said. “A lot of people tell me that this is the only movie theater they go to, which is quite a compliment”.
And it is true that the movie experience at the Stonzek is somewhat different. The lobby is small and dimly lit, but it actually adds to its appeal instead of lessening it. There is a small concession stand that offers the basics, candy and soda with the addition of a Keurig machine for those who enjoy a caffeine jolt with their favorite feature. “I don’t offer a steak dinner with the movie ticket” Birnbaum comments humorously. “And I have no intention of doing so. I don’t understand how you can watch a movie in a theater and have a full dinner instead of popcorn”.
Birnbaum additionally explains how the Stonzek began as a black box theater venue and later transitioned into putting on performances for children but they couldn’t really make it work. “That’s when they decided to make it a movie theater, partnering initially with Emerging Cinemas which offered to provide us with the films that they uploaded into our computers from their offices in New York” Birnbaum said.
Emerging Cinemas (now Emerging Pictures) is a network company of several independent film venues, particularly focusing on the ones who have difficulty making a profit on their own. The idea, according to Birnbaum, was to have a group of independent film houses blanketed by the Emerging Pictures and who would benefit from a wide array of offered films in addition to advertising and marketing.
“That lasted about three years but when the contract ended, we decided that we were better off booking the films on our own, partly because with Emerging, they were the ones that had control over the number of showings and the programming. So we decided to part ways with them and do our own programming” Birnbaum said.
The Stonzek offers many films that have been successful at film festivals like Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Telluride and many others. The theater works with distributors such as Magnolia Pictures and Music Box Films, who don’t require a special DCP projector to show their films and are instead distributed on a Blue Ray disc. “I wish I could get films from Fox Searchlight, Sony, the Weinstein Company. But the projector is way too expensive and then we would be forced to compete with the bigger theaters that already show these films. I think I prefer us to be different”.
Being in the Stonzek, it’s easy to see what Birnbaum is talking about when he referred to how some people don’t go to any other theater. Small, quiet and quaint the Stonzek offers what most chain theaters do not; a great film accompanied by popcorn and soda, instead of a three-course meal and wine mixed with a film.
WATCH THE COMPLETE INTERVIEW WITH STONZEK THEATER MANAGER, CHARLIE BIRNBAUM: