Garden Cinemas struggling  to draw people during pandemic

  • Isaac Mass with one of the ultra violet disinfecting lights being used between shows at Greenfield Garden Cinemas. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/30/2020 10:00:16 AM

When Greenfield Garden Cinemas owners Isaac and Angela Mass reopened their seven theaters in early July, they knew there would be challenges but had hoped people would come.

“We have a cap of 25 people per show, but we’re not even coming close,” Isaac Mass said. “Almost all are private shows.”

Mass said one reason, he believes, is that people want new content and there isn’t any, though it has been and will continue to show Jeff Daniel’s “Guest Artist,” directed by Tim Busfield (“Thirtysomething” and “The West Wing”) and co-produced by Melissa Gilbert, of “Little House on the Prairie” fame, through the end of July. Mass describes it as an “art film.”

Busfield and Gilbert have been “very supportive” of the local cinemas, Mass said, recording a special welcoming message for the show.

’Guest Artist’

The Recorder interviewed Busfield and Gilbert on the phone this past week while they wait out the pandemic at their home in the Catskills of New York.

The two, friends of Daniels, who stars in the film, said it was released late last year, but just a couple months later the pandemic hit. They said they hope people go to local theaters like the Garden to see “Guest Artist,” because they believe they’ll leave saying it was a “good way to spend 75 minutes.”

Busfield said there is a controversial line 71 minutes into the movie that will “really get people thinking,” so it’s not only entertaining, but appropriate for the times everyone is living in right now.

Gilbert said small mom-and-pop venues and movies are a result of the pandemic and will most likely become the norm for a long time to come.

“I think that the ‘over-budget’ movie is behind us,” Gilbert said. “At least until we have a viable and safe vaccine for COVID-19 and people feel safe again.”

She said large companies with big crews and huge budgets just doesn’t make sense right now — there are too many unknowns. In early 2019, Busfield, Gilbert and Daniels understood that was the direction they should go, even before the pandemic — so they launched Grand River Productions, and their first project was “Guest Artist.”

“We decided to explore and see how smaller would do, scaling back, because bigger isn’t always better,” Gilbert said. “That’s how we’re all going to bring arts back.”

Busfield and Gilbert said their advice to Franklin County’s artists — playwrights, screenwriters, actors, directors, producers — is to do exactly what they’ve been doing.

“Find a good play, or write or rewrite one, wear many hats and do all the work, and don’t sacrifice meals to put a lot of money into it,” Busfield said, and to others, “Go and see small movies and discover how good they can be.”

The two said people tend to go and see the blockbusters because they are the ones marketed so well and that’s what people want to see.

“But now, especially, it’s not safe to go into a crowded theater,” Gilbert said. “If people discover some really good small movies, they might find a new perspective.”

How GardenCinemas proceeds

“We keep going,” Mass said. “We’ll be showing ‘Mulan’ in a few weeks and we’ll have other movies people have been waiting for.”

Mass said “Irresistable” is being streamed so people can watch at home and in the theater, like many of the films it shows. The Garden has food to go, so people can come to pick up food and take it home, if they’d like.

“It’ll cost $20 to see it at home and $5 to $9.50 in the theater, for instance,” he said. “Since our theaters see very few people for most movies, it’s pretty safe.”

The Garden offers new movies each Friday. Those include classics and a couple of newer movies. This week, it is showing everything from “Citizen Kane” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” to “Ghostbusters” and “Karate Kid,” both with bonus footage.

“Everyone should see films like those on the big screen,” Mass said. “Here’s the opportunity.”

Mass said Garden Cinemas is still selling popcorn and other food and next week will be adding beer and wine — they applied for a license earlier this year. The Masses offer private parties for families and friends who want a theater to themselves to see a movie. The cost is $50.

The local couple bought Garden Cinemas on Nov. 15, closed it because of the pandemic on March 15 and reopened last month.

For information about movie times, including “Guest Artist,” call 413-774-4881 or visit:

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


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