Small movie theater shows niche movies for Tampa movie lovers

YBOR CITY, Fla. — The owners of a small theater in Ybor City hope to bring movie lovers from across the Bay Area to their 38-seat theater.

what you need to know

  • The owners of Screen Door, a small movie theater in Ybor City, hope to bring movie lovers from across the Bay Area to their 38-seat theater
  • The Microcinema house will soon receive donated seating from Los Angeles, increasing capacity to approximately 55 seats
  • At the moment, screenings in the cinema show a different film every night from Thursday to Sunday

A roll of film in progress is an incomparable feeling for film buffs like Warren Cockerham.

“The tactility of it when it breaks, you know, all that stuff is kind of part of it for me,” he said.

Cockerham is Professor of Film and Media Production Coordination at the University of Tampa.

He says he has loved films and filmmaking all his life.

“I never really gave it up,” Cockerham said. “I kept making films and I kept showing films.”

But when he lives outside of the big movie centers like New York and Los Angeles, some of the more obscure films he loves, or those that don’t hit the box office, rarely make it to screenings in places like the Bay Area.

Cockerham said reality is why he and his partners Sean O’Brien and Ann-Eliza Taylor had an idea to change that.

“You can’t see it anywhere else and it’s too bad,” he said.

Just as life in Jurassic Park finds a way, Cockerham and his partners found a way to convert a small space in Ybor City into a premier micro-cinema called the Screen Door.

It only seats 38 at the moment, but Cockerham says the projection and audio quality are among the best anywhere.

He says it means they can showcase well-loved films with classics from a bygone era.

“They gave us a blank slate and said we could do whatever we want with it,” O’Brien said.

According to O’Brien, he’s had dreams of opening the Screen Door for a while and finally got the chance to welcome guests over Halloween weekend to watch some classic scary movies.

He said he never thought he’d be standing on the opposite side of a concession stand that sells popcorn and drinks, even if that stand is currently in a closet.

“It’s one of those things where I’ve always been a big movie fan but actually work in a theater now, but it’s cool that it’s my theater,” O’Brien said.

But it’s not as if cinemas are thriving economically.

Despite the issues theaters are facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, O’Brien says her approach to niche films — along with collaborating with local music and film artists to showcase her work in her space — makes her believe letting them have a viable product may take a while in Ybor City.

“We’re just going to be a community theater that actually caters to the whole community,” he said.

Therefore, when previews begin and O’Brien can stand at the back of the theater while Cockerham operates the projector, they can’t help but feel they’ve achieved just that.

“I think if there’s a community, then there’s a reason we should exist,” Cockerham said.

Screen Door will soon receive donated seating from Los Angeles, which will increase capacity to approximately 55 seats.

At the moment there are screenings that show a different film every night from Thursday to Sunday.


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