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Ciné is pictured on West Hancock Avenue in Athens, Georgia on Friday, April 23, 2021. Located in downtown Athens, Ciné celebrates its 14th anniversary this April. (Photo/Jessica Gratigny; @jgratphoto)

Local nonprofit theater and Athens institution Ciné celebrates its 14th year of operation this spring. Similarly to last year’s anniversary, this year’s celebrations look a little different than ones in years past.

An Athens staple

Founded by Brigitta Hangartner, Ciné opened its doors in 2007 and has since established itself as a trademark of downtown Athens over the past nearly decade and a half.

Executive director since 2014, Pamela Kohn has been involved with Ciné since its beginnings and reminisced on how much the theater has grown in the past 14 years.

“[Ciné] is really very much a living entity; it breathes and grows,” Kohn said. “It’s definitely expanded and evolved, as anything would … it’s been a really interesting, fulfilling time.

Kohn also reflected on how much Ciné has affected the Athens community.. She said that the feedback she has gotten from patrons of Ciné has been overwhelmingly positive.

“[The patrons] feel that [Ciné] is very much a part of what makes Athens,” Kohn said. “It’s a place that I think inhabits the hearts of many. Most people who have been to Ciné once come back again.”

Richard Neupert, a film studies professor at the University of Georgia and president of the Ciné board, said being involved with the theater has meant a lot to him.Kohn’s sentiments.

“[Ciné] has been not just for the community, but it’s built its own community,” Neupert said. “There are a lot of people I only know because of Ciné … so it’s been important on a lot of levels.”

Ciné in a changed world

Ciné has been closed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, but it began offering private screenings to groups with a limited number of people in October.

Kohn emphasized how atypical the past year has been for Ciné while also expressing gratefulness to Ciné’s patrons for being so patient and understanding during such a difficult time.

“I feel very fortunate,” Kohn said. “Our members have very much supported us. I get a lot of emails saying, ‘How are you doing? We wish we could come back [to Ciné].’”

Neupert also addressed how unusual Ciné’s 13th and 14th anniversaries have been in light of the pandemic.

“It’s been sad,” Neupert said. “Last year was worse. At least we’re open part time now, but in the past, every April was really a great celebration.”

Neupert said that a typical Ciné anniversary consists of festivities such as the showcasing of special or classic films and guest filmmakers visiting to discuss their work.

“It’s unfortunate to have it like this,” Neupert said in reference to Ciné’s current limited capabilities, “but we’re about to ramp up again to reopen.”

Bouncing back

Looking at the days ahead, Neupert discussed some of his wishes for the future of Ciné, such as the eventual introduction of a third projector and screening space in addition to the current two. However, he first hopes to get people back in the groove of going to the movies after such a long period of isolation.

“We’ve got hundreds of members and many of them are anxious to get back,” Neupert said. “We just want to sort of rebuild and reconnect with friends.”

Kohn announced that Ciné will soon offer an outdoor drive-in theater, allowing patrons to get the Ciné experience both indoors and outdoors. She also aims to bring Ciné out of these abnormal times by welcoming more people into its doors and bringing more awareness to its presence in Athens.

“We just want to expand and integrate as much of the community as we can,” Kohn said, “just so that [people] know we are there as a community space. That’s who we are and that’s what we strive to be.”

Birthday donations to Ciné are currently being accepted on the theater’s website.