Erin Hurley is a journalism senior and Mustang Daily San Luis Obispo lifestyle columnist.
I love movies. I think they’re like a little escape from daily life. When I go see a movie, I can kind of suspend reality for a couple hours and temporarily immerse myself in a fictional world.
And some of my favorite movie experiences have happened here in SLO (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 — yep, I was there at midnight). The city has some great options for moviegoers — there are several theaters downtown, and even a drive-in theater. But that’s for another column.
I hope most of you have heard of the Palm Theatre, located conveniently on Palm Street. It’s pretty small — the first few times I drove by it my freshman year, I didn’t even realize it was a theater. But it’s totally cool. It’s really like no other theater I’ve ever been to.
Owner Jim Dee opened the Palm in 1988. He said there were a lot of films that never made it to San Luis Obispo, and he felt the theater was filling a need.
“The selection of foreign films or alternative language films was pretty much zero,” Dee said.
Mutliplex theaters are spoiling viewers, and the prices for tickets and concessions have gotten very expensive, Dee said.
He said he hopes that the Palm nurtures an interest in cinema and that people feel they’ve gotten a good product at a good price.
“We just try to stretch it out a little bit and try to show our patrons that there is more to cinema than what comes out of Hollywood,” Dee said. “Our main concern is getting people to see good movies.”
The Palm focuses mostly on foreign and independent films that are less mainstream, but Dee said that if it can, the theater will try to get films that are more commercial, like “Juno” or “Little Miss Sunshine.” Dee goes to the Toronto Film Festival every year and gets ideas for which films the Palm will show. He said he also listens to patron requests when deciding what to show at the theater.
I actually had never been to the Palm before last year — I saw “Never Let Me Go” with my roommate, and the experience really stuck out in my memory. When you go in through the big front doors, the screens are to the left and the hallway has movie characters painted on the walls – like Amélie and the robot from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” It gets you excited to see your movie, and it really feels like you’re in a theater owned by people who just want you to have a good time.
Not only has the Palm been showing movies for 23 years, but they’ve also been a venue for the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival since it started.
“I love film festivals,” Dee said. “It’s fun to sort of immerse yourself in a lot of movies.”
Something else about the Palm that I thought was just too cool not to mention is that it’s solar-powered — there are 98 solar panels on the roof.
Dee said it was the first solar-powered theater in the country. He decided to go solar in 2004 and said it’s brought the theater’s electric bill down to almost nothing.
SLOcal Gary Harkins said he and his wife Muriel are really into movies, and they have friends all over the country who tell them they wish they had a theater like the Palm in their hometowns. He said if you’re going to see foreign films, you’ve got to come here.
“He has the more interesting movies,” Harkins said.
Dee said SLOcals have come to trust the Palm Theatre — it’s rewarding for him to hear stories of people who took a chance on a movie at the Palm that they had never heard of and enjoyed it. What makes cities unique and vibrant are the “Mom and Pop” businesses, he said.
I wholeheartedly agree.
Going to the Palm more often is definitely on my bucket list for senior year, and I encourage all of you to go. Who knows? You might see something that changes your life that you couldn’t have seen anywhere else.