Credit: Rain Mazumder | Mustang News

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the global film industry has suffered a loss of $7 billion, according to Even three years after the initial pandemic outbreak, local and privately owned movie theaters, such as the Palm Theater in Downtown San Luis Obispo, are still suffering from the economic repercussions of the shutdown. 

Jim Dee, the owner of Palm Theater since its opening in 1988, said he recognizes the desire to stay home, primarily due to how easy it is to create an at-home streaming experience. He acknowledges that this was somewhat the case before the pandemic too.

“What it really boils down to is with the Palm offers…and what I call this community, where you’re together, alone in the dark with an audience,” Dee said. “I think that’s the way movies were intended to be seen — on the big screen with an audience.”

Psychology junior Eli Sandoval goes to the Palm Theater often, and echoed Dee’s sentiment.

“It feels nostalgic, just because of the setup, the fact that you can’t buy tickets online again, [and] it actually goes [through] the box office,” Sandoval said.

Despite the decline in business since the pandemic, Dee said he’s still trying to stay positive.

“I’m still being patient for more people to come back to the theaters,” Dee said. “It is a waiting game, but I have to be really patient because, you know, to tell you that our numbers are down, it’s not an exaggeration. I’ll go through a week where most of my audiences are five people.”

The Palm Theater does offer a deeper appreciation of art that other ways of watching films cannot, such as by featuring independent films to a live audience. However, there seems to be a lack of interest from students. Sandoval has noticed this too.

“I think there is a little less appreciation for the arts in general,” Sandoval said. “I think for many people, the pandemic was something that was traumatic, so now they want to go see movies that are fully escapism, not fully make them feel good. And I feel like there’s almost an apathy towards the stories that can be told.”

Sandoval and Dee both emphasized the value of art that watching independent films fosters. For those looking to involve themselves in independent film, Dee points out that the San Luis Obispo Film Festival to be held at the end of April will be an opportunity for attendees to have access to a wide variety of unique films.

“The empathy for these characters and for these experiences and just being exposed to people, lifestyles and experiences that we never would on our own,” Sandoval said. “And I think it allows us to have greater empathy for the real world and for the people, and through the movies that we watch.”