by Esther Baruh, Director of Government Relations, NATO
Many companies and organizations around the globe are undertaking the important objective of working to increase diversity and inclusion within their ranks. Whether it’s in the C-suite, out in the field, or at the entry- or mid-level, groups of all sizes are taking stock and asking themselves: Does everyone have a place at our table? Are all voices represented here? Do we reflect the community we’re serving?
NATO is no different. NATO’s current strategic plan, adopted in 2018, identified diversity and inclusion as a key objective for the organization. In keeping with this goal, NATO formed a Diversity and Inclusion Committee aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion within NATO’s volunteer corps and at movie theater companies, and expanding the diversity and variety of films released theatrically.
One of the first projects undertaken by the committee to increase diversity and inclusion within NATO’s volunteer structure was to expand attendance at NATO’s fall governance meetings. All NATO members are invited to gather annually in the autumn for committee meetings and a meeting of NATO’s Advisory Board. During these meetings, members receive updates on the latest initiatives of the association, discuss industry research and statistics, and debate the top issues facing exhibitors.
NATO’s D&I Committee identified attending the governance meetings as a key pathway to involvement with NATO and eventual leadership within the association. With the support of NATO’s Executive Board, the committee created the NATO Advisory Board Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship to encourage more individuals who are underrepresented among the association’s volunteers to attend this year’s meetings in Los Angeles.
NATO awarded seven scholarships in 2019. Our winners were women and men from varied backgrounds, companies, and locations. We asked the scholarship winners to describe why NATO is important to them, why other exhibitors should get involved with the association, and the challenges and opportunities in exhibition.
Operations Auditor, Cinema West
Samantha Beauchamp has worked in movie theaters since 2007, starting as a concessions cashier. She has worked her way through each step—supervisor, assistant manager, and general manager, and is now in Cinema West’s corporate office as an internal operations auditor.
Attending the NATO meeting gave me new perspective. It was great to hear about changes in the industry and how each of us is trying to stay ahead of the curve, and to learn how other companies deal with similar issues and how they are solving them. If you love to learn, if you are trying to be all things theater, then you need to be an active member of NATO. Help yourself and others by being present and bringing your own experiences to light. All voices matter.
Being an exhibitor means taking on the challenge of changing someone’s day. We have the chance to help guests remember that going to the theater is not just watching a movie, it is an event.
Owner, Platinum Cinemas/M&M Entertainment
Martin Hubbard is the owner and president of Platinum Cinemas/M & M Entertainment based in the Minneapolis metro area, with three locations totaling 14 screens. Hubbard has 17 years of industry experience. He is also actively involved with North Central NATO and has taken on running that organization’s annual convention.
Attending the governance meeting was important because it gave me a glimpse into a trade organization that supports my business, understands my business, and will fight for my business. Staying involved in NATO will help me stay connected to other exhibitors, as well as stay current on changing laws and technologies throughout the world.
Besides enjoying a good movie every now and then, I love having the ability to connect with my community through entertainment. I find exhibition exciting because it gives me the opportunity to help shape the next generation of producers.
General Manager, Movie Works (Pvt.) Ltd.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Ganga Jasenthuliyana is the general manager of Movie Works (Pvt.) Ltd. in Sri Lanka. She is in charge of the organizational strategy, structure, people, and financial management of movie exhibition and distribution. She specializes in business management and administration. Jasenthuliyana is also experienced as a fundraiser and a monitoring and evaluation manager, with administrative experience spanning over 20 years at both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
The growth of the cinema industry around the world makes bridging divides and networking between theaters a must. We encounter many challenges with studios, suppliers, and data sharing in our region. Attending the NATO meeting was truly an eye-opener to understand how the industry behaves and to make good choices for our business. NATO’s International Committee helped us to better understand industry development in emerging markets and how we can contribute to this industry despite our market share and size. I would recommend any exhibitor to be a part of this valued process.
“As an exhibitor, being a focal delivery point of the magical work of Hollywood is immensely satisfying. Exhibitors to some extent control how films are promoted and presented to the public and do hold a considerable influence over the box office success and, more importantly, the reception of films. The region is already feeling the pinch on the emergence of streaming platforms. The existence of cinemagoing will be tested. We need to muster our collective strengths to conquer all challenges and protect the number-one entertainment in the world for the future.”
Robert A. Johnson Sr.
Cinema Operations Manager, Paragon Cinema
Robert Johnson is a member of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, a federally recognized Native American tribe. He has worked for Paragon Cinema since 2014. As operations manager, he oversees all aspects of theater operations, including film booking, employee scheduling, and inventory.
“NATO provides a voice for my three-screen, 320-seat venue as much as it does for the larger circuits. In today’s climate, it is important that everyone in our industry have that voice. Being a NATO member is invaluable to my theater. One cannot overstate the value of connecting with other exhibitors in all parts of the United States and the world, and NATO affords me and other member exhibitors that opportunity. I was delighted with the air of openness and freedom of thought and expression displayed in the various committee meetings.
As an exhibitor located in a rural area, I love being the leader in bringing the latest in quality entertainment to my community. That certainly presents both opportunity in the form of being the only cinema within a fairly large area, and the challenge of keeping the audience entertained with quality, culturally diverse, and interesting films, as well as growing that audience. And the answer to that issue lies within the purview of the studios to provide films that will help me accomplish that.
Director of Operations, Athens Movie Palace
Kavitha Reddy joined her parents in running their five-screen theater in Athens, Tennessee, after graduating law school. She started at the theater in 2014, helping with contracts and business matters. The theater opened in 2015, and she serves as the director of operations, handling everything from the day-to-day operations to all business matters for the theater.
NATO is our connection to the movie theater world. NATO helps us stay informed and relevant despite being only five of the 40,000 domestic screens. We are a small-town theater, and it is important for us to keep up with the industry and provide the same (or better) experience you would get at a larger megaplex. Attending NATO meetings is crucial to accomplish that. Even though NATO members are competitors, it is important for the theaters to stick together so we can contend with the studios.
Before joining the business I became an attorney. People typically come to attorneys reluctantly—usually you need a lawyer because something bad has occurred. Being in exhibition is different. People come here because they want to have a good time. Getting people to realize the importance of the moviegoing experience is both a challenge and opportunity for us. Moviegoing is something we can collectively experience; it gives us a sense of community.
Co-Owner, City Lights Cinemas
Susan Tive is the co-owner of City Lights Cinemas in Florence, Oregon, and head of philanthropy for Salt Lake Film Society in Salt Lake City, Utah. She has worked in the film exhibition industry for almost 20 years with both for- and non-profit organizations. In 2006, along with her husband, Michael Falter, and several other independent cinema leaders, she helped start the Art House Convergence, which has become the largest annual gathering of independent cinema operators in the country.
Attending the NATO meeting was important to me because it helped me to better understand how NATO works as a representative trade organization, its leadership structure and process, as well as its work on the main goals and major challenges of theater owners. It was helpful to meet fellow exhibitors and share information and experience, and to be updated by NATO staff about their efforts on behalf of theater owners. It was also helpful to learn how the NATO leadership process works and the steps it is taking to increase diversity. Smaller, independent companies and nonprofits should be involved with NATO so they can have greater leverage and a larger voice in helping to shape all aspects of the film production, distribution, and exhibition business.
I am passionate about the power of the big screen, theatrical film experience to strengthen community and help people gain more understanding and empathy for one another. I am concerned about the changes that are adversely affecting exhibition and would like to be involved in finding creative solutions to them.
General Manager, Marcus Theatres Corp.
Oak Creek, Wisconsin
Jill Woodworth is the general manager at the Marcus Renaissance Cinema in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. She started as a concessions attendant for Marcus Theatres when she was 16 and never looked back, working her way up through four locations in three different states. Woodworth earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and is halfway to accomplishing her personal goal of watching a movie in each of the 91 Marcus locations.
So often we think of other exhibitors as competitors, but NATO brings the competitors together and gives them a place to dialogue about shared issues and concerns for our industry. Together is the only way to face certain challenges and maintain the success of our industry in the future. Attending the meeting was a great opportunity to meet theater owners and operators from across the country and learn from their struggles and successes.
The industry is always facing challenges, but a challenge is an opportunity for growth. Every day is different in our industry. Each film brings something new, and there is never time to be bored. The biggest opportunities right now are with our youngest generation. If we can get guests in the moviegoing habit young, and we deliver great experiences, they will be moviegoers for life.