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New film tells the story of LA institution Laemmle Theaters

For 84 years, Laemmle Theaters, a family-run art house cinema chain, has drawn millions of movie-goers from around Los Angeles to watch films in every genre, language and subject matter imaginable. Now, the theater company itself is the focus of a new film directed by filmmaker Raphael Sbarge. Titled ‘Only in Theaters,’ the documentary dives into Laemmle’s storied history and explores the future of movie theaters in a rapidly changing landscape. 

Laemmle Theaters President Greg Laemmle, who represents the third generation of his family to run the business, said he hopes viewers of the new film walk away with an appreciation of independent theaters and an understanding of the public’s role in supporting and maintaining them – especially in the wake of the COVID 19.

All of Laemmle’s eight LA area theaters closed for over a year during the pandemic and he said reopening has been a “battle” in many ways. 

“The public has a role in that battle,” he said. “The last few years have shown certainly there can be some worry on the part of people about what is going to happen with movie theaters, what is happening with movie-going … We’re trying to use the film as a way to say, you know, exhibition is still here and there’s time and reason to re-engage with that process.”

Greg Laemmle runs the business with his father Robert Laemmle who took it over from founders Kurt and Max Laemmle, the nephews of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle.

“There really has been a Laemmle in the film business ever since there has been a film business,” Greg Laemmle remarked in the trailer for the documentary. 

He said he thinks the film does a good job of highlighting not only the history of his family, which it traces from Germany to the US, but also the role he feels the company plays today. 

“It’s pretty rare to have a three generational family business and I think we occupy a unique, interesting place in Los Angeles: being the family that has been bringing foreign films to LA for generations, and those films educate and inspire people,” he said.

Laemmle said he was approached by Sbarge with the idea to turn his family’s theater industry saga into a documentary. He said he was familiar with Sbarge’s previous work, which includes directing multiple LA-focused films, and felt he was the right person to translate the story to the big screen. 

“I thought of him as somebody who shared an interest in the history of Los Angeles,” Laemmle said. “Laemmle Theaters has been a part of that history of Los Angeles.” 

Laemmle said he is pleased with how the film turned out and has received positive feedback from viewers since it premiered on Nov. 18.

“It’s informational but also emotional,” he said. “And that’s not always one’s reaction to a documentary.”

Only in Theaters will be playing at the Monica Film Center (1332 2nd St.) starting on Dec. 2 for two weeks and Laemmle said it could remain longer depending on demand. 

“We really do hope people show up for the film and in that way demonstrate their support,” he said. 

For information and to buy tickets visit: https://www.laemmle.com/film/only-theaters.

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