For 30 years The Bijou Art Cinemas has been bringing the finest foreign, independent and classic cinema to the small town of Eugene. The theatre saw great success in the 80’s and 90’s as more and more indie films were thrust into the mainstream. The mid 00’s brought the absorption of marketable “alternative” titles by large theater chains. This combined with the inception of on-demand home video began to chip away at the art house cinema market. Revenues declined, the Bijou’s founder, Michael LaMont passed away, and things were not looking good for the small theater. After two grim years, the current management (all Bijou employees) bought the business from LaMont’s estate and nursed it back to health.
The Bijou is truly a labor of love for managers Edward Schiessl, Louise Thomas and Jamie Hosler. Their devotion to film and cinema has revitalized one of Eugene’s most beloved and valuable local businesses. Converted from a funeral home built in the 1920’s, the auditoriums exude a character as unique as the films that are played in them. The smell of brewer’s yeast, popcorn and candy hovers in the air as light spills in through the many stain glass windows. Familiars chat in the lobby, and the staff are always ready to share their opinions about the current films. It is, quite bluntly, a cinema run by true film nerds, but not the snobby type. In addition to playing movies, The Bijou is also very active in the community, working with local non-profits, student groups, departments at the U of O, film societies and area businesses all around Eugene.
The Bijou is working on their much-anticipated expansion into downtown Eugene with The Bijou Metro. Seating capacity for each auditorium at the new location is currently estimated between 20 and 40 seats. Each auditorium will be outfitted with state-of-the-art digital presentation systems, and the two larger auditoriums will also be capable of showing archival 16mm & 35mm film prints to maximize the ability to collaborate with film festivals and University programming. Limited gourmet food and espresso will be available in the lobby along with their traditional concessions menu, as well as additional food and/or beverages from the adjacent beer & wine bar, whose lounge space will also be accessible from within our building.
Currently, The Bijou is running a Kickstarter Campaign to raise money to switch to digital projectors for the new theater. The grim reality is that film will be phased out by the end of this year. This means that independent theaters like The Bijou must make the switch, and it is not cheap. Eugenians have been incredibly supportive over the years, and their love for The Bijou still stands today, serving as a stark indicator of how the small, quirky theater has earned a special place in the heart of the community.