The Pageant Part II: The Son Also Rises

35 years ago, a couple guys who played baseball together made a leap, borrowed a couple grand and bought a small idle movie theater. Tim Giusta and Roger Montalbano shared a love of independent film—a missing piece in the landscape of what was, at the time, a town of just 26,000 peoplew. As Chico grew the Pageant grew along with it; through triumphs and mishaps they cultivated a community of film lovers, and the Pageant became an indispensable cultural icon.

Last year, we all found out just how indispensable it really is to us. Faced with the threat of losing it, a collection of fundraisers including a crowdfunding drive on IndieGogo, as well as several concerts and donations from the artistic community, succeeded in raising over $80,000 in less than a month—well above the $65,000 needed to upgrade to a digital projection system.

Roger pretty much stepped aside from the day to day running of the place several years ago, and Tim is finally able to do the same, retiring as of March 1st. The Pageant has now been handed over to Roger’s son, Miles Montalbano. So, who is this guy, and what will it mean?   

Roger mentioned you were the one who really spearheaded the Save the Pageant movement last year, could you tell me bit about that?

Sure. I was living in San Francisco, where I’d been for… wow, so long. I was making films down there, and am kind of into the film world. Anyway, I was feeling really discouraged with the city; I’d been there for a really long time, and was not really enjoying the way the city was changing and the way I’d changed, and it was time for me to move. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do and where I was going to go, and I got this message that said “It looks like the Pageant is going to close. Tim’s getting ready to retire, and the theater has to change over to digital at the end of this year and it’s going to be really expensive, so he figures this is a good time just to close up shop.”

The idea was like, would you be interested in taking this on? And I was like, well yeah. For me, growing up here (my first job was at the Pageant when I was 14, back in like 1980), and having this connection to Chico with my family being here, I know just how important it feels to have this theater; this little funky art house downtown. It just felt like a really important thing for the community, and for the culture here, to try to keep it going.

I had a bunch of suggestions about what we could do to accomplish that, and one of them was the crowdsourced fundraiser to try to raise money for the projector and the equipment we needed. I also figured that would be a good gauge to see if the community was here to support the theater.

And it was just overwhelming. Everybody was really touched and moved by how people came out to support it. We were able to upgrade to digital and get all of the things we needed. We surpassed the goal, so we got a new Dolby sound system as well, and got to get new-ish seats. It’s really nice.

Tim decided after that made it that he wanted to stick around for a little while, sort of enjoy the fruits of that, but that he was still going to retire. So, I decided to move on up here. I’ve been back for about a year. It’s been an interesting transition.

I hear that there’s going to be a slightly different direction in the movies you show?

Yeah, from my perspective it seems like Chico has an audience that’s not really being served. The films that we’ve been showing seem to mostly be… kind of your standard middle of the road indie film fare, stuff that you could probably go see at the Cinemark or whatever. I don’t want to totally abandon that, because of our core audience that’s been supporting the theater for so long, but I want to expand on it: more adventurous, alternative stuff, as well as more special events with live music, radical political docs, etc… I don’t want to totally change it to where people feel alienated. I just feel like there’s room to do more. Chico’s an artsy town, it’s got a really strong arts current. I think it’s going to be a good fit.

I remember growing up going to the midnight movies; that was a big fun thing, and you’d see some crazy, wacky stuff. I kinda wanna do that: some late night cult films, but maybe pull it back to 11:00 so you can still go get a drink for last call after. Maybe some more live events, music and film stuff… get some filmmakers in here to show their films. I think there’s a ton of possibilities, and we’ll see what people respond to. My instinct is that people will go for it. I’m gonna try it.

The first film I have booked is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a gorgeous Iranian hipster feminist vampire romance post-punk blend of horror, film noir and spaghetti westerns. It opens March 6th (check out the amazing trailer on the pageant website: pageantchico.com/comingSoon.html)… I saw the trailer and I was like, I wanna see that. I think that if we get a buzz out maybe some people will come check it out.

And you’re also thinking about some changes to the snacks?

I wanna move away from the traditional M&M/Coca Cola corporate crapola, and start doing things like organic popcorn. Which is not that much more expensive, and regular popcorn is like on the top 10 list of FDA’s dangerous foods. Stuff like that. I’ve been talking to the folks at the co-op, and I think they’re gonna help out with the concessions. So yeah, organic popcorn, maybe natural sodas… the same kind of stuff, just the alternative, a little more healthy, stuff. [laughs] So it’ll still be junk food, but healthy junk food. Fair trade chocolate instead of blood chocolate.

It’s the right crowd for it.

For me, it’s just about putting my values into practice, which is something I need to do in my life… And I’m making sure that it’s also not going to be crazy, like $6 for a candy bar. It’s not so much about making money, I’m making sure that you can get a good price.

Be sure to check out the first sample of the Pageant’s new fare, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, opening this Friday, March 6th

Managing Editor for Synthesis Weekly. Amy likes to make clothes, plant flowers, and chase butterflies.