A Reel Deal


Published:

 It’s 8 o’clock on a cold Wednesday night, one hour before showtime, and David Allen flips the switch on the popcorn maker. The warm hum of the machine accentuates a sugary aroma already in the air — a combination that triggers movie-house nostalgia.

Allen, 23, is one of the four young proprietors of the Burton Theatre, an art-house cinema inside the former Burton International School in Midtown Detroit’s one-time Chinatown district. A few paces from the concession stand is evidence of the building’s recent past. When the theater officially opened last October, the Cass Avenue building had been abandoned for a year.

The frayed edges lend a certain mythic aura not found at typical cinemas. That difference continues downstairs, where, through a narrow hallway lined with emerald-green school lockers, a red-felt billiards table graces the men’s room. “This is not a novelty,” Allen says, “There are actual pool games that go on here.”

The Burton is a metaphor for the greater story of the city — a vibrant outpost in an otherwise rather desolate place. It’s a story that prompted The New York Times to highlight the theater in a story about fledgling Detroit businesses such as the Good Girls Go to Paris crêperies and Leopold’s Books. The Times posted a video of the Burton on its Web site, though it made the theater look as desolate as its surroundings. “[They] came during one of our slowest weeks ever,” Allen says. “Which was kind of frustrating, because we had a sellout the next week.”

Still, the newfound media attention is a welcome addition to the Burton’s gathering momentum. “Our attendance, if you were to graph it, is steadily increasing,” says Jeff Else, 24, as he and his partners gather in the projection room, which doubles as an office. The two senior partners in the foursome — Nathan Faustyn and Matt Kelson — are 26. All agree that they couldn’t have opened a theater with $6,000 in loans in any other town.

“This was just an idea a year ago,” Else says. “The whole process has moved along pretty smoothly.” But it wouldn’t have happened without the help of the local community and building owner Joel Landy, who originally wanted to open a drive-in cinema on the roof, Kelson adds.

Today, all signs point to expansion. Possibilities include shifting from the schedule of Wednesday and weekend screenings to daily showings. They’ve also discussed a second theater for second-run films, and perhaps a liquor license.

The next concrete step, though, is managing this month’s Detroit Independent Film Festival. The event, hosted by the Burton, runs March 3-7, and will screen local and international shorts, as well as cult movies. They also plan to include a special appearance by Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman.

“The biggest appeal of this place,” Allen says, “is that the films are curated; there’s a Burton type of movie.”

To find out what that means, you have to first find the theater. A proper marquee is still in the works.

Information: burtontheatre.com.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

The Way It Was

Out of the Woodwork

Four Detroit furniture makers carve their niche in the industry with quality craftsmanship and customization

Turning a New Leaf

Former Detroit banker trades cubicle for Hollywood, stars in meaty role as O.J. Simpson’s son in new FX series

Modern Romance

Wayne State University professor is studying online dating and how we click with our matches — or not

Web Exclusive: Interview with Apolis, a brand featured at Willys Detroit

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. From Tires to Tequila
    Using agave crops from their ancestral Jalisco, Mexico, property, a Southwest Detroit family is...
  2. Infection Fighters
    Hand-held detection device puts a pair of Wayne State doctors on the verge of a major medical...
  3. Holy Schvitz
    A new generation reconnects with Old World traditions at a storied Detroit bathhouse
  4. Barbecue + Beer = Love
    Lockhart’s BBQ to host OddSide Ales tap event in late January, then launch a craft brewery...
  5. Exported From Bellaire
    Inventive brewer Short’s hits milestone and announces plans to distribute outside of Michigan
  6. Fire Up the Dragon
    New Holland’s bourbon barrel stout gets the royal treatment at Winter Beer Fest and beyond
  7. Solid Standby
    New restaurant in The Belt is the type of place to get Miller High Life and a burger or craft...
  8. Extraordinarily Good
    Freshness reigns supreme at the imaginative Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails in Midtown
  9. Spirited Inspiration
    Jim Brady’s Detroit owner sets out to recreate the feeling of his grandfather’s famed saloon
  10. The Look of Love
    Bridal fashion doesn’t necessarily have to be wed to tradition. Top designers are creating...