Mike Stevens has always been drawn to culture-related fields over the course of his self-described wayward career path, but becoming executive director of independent movie theater The Moxie Cinema caught the lifelong movie lover by surprise.
“I think I’ve struck upon something not quite by accident but definitely not on purpose,” says Stevens, who moved from New York to Springfield in summer 2010 to run The Moxie after founders Dan and Nicole Chilton sold it to the Downtown Springfield Community Cinema, a nonprofit operating as part of Community Foundation of the Ozarks.
The Chiltons had put the theater, located at 431 S. Jefferson Ave., up for sale in late 2009 to focus on their family.
“There were a lot of people who apparently pitched buying the Moxie,” says Stevens, whose wife is from Springfield. “It’s a romantic idea to run a movie theater (and) a lot of people really wanted it to stick around.”
Stevens says he learned of the opportunity at The Moxie from his in-laws and friends in the community, and he reports having plenty of help settling into the job.
“I come with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but not a ton of experience for what the job is,” Stevens says. “Dan and Nicole signed on for a month to basically train me.”
Stevens says Springfield’s sense of community sets it apart from the culture of independent cinema in New York.
“In New York, you’re not going to get any help. Everybody is doing their own thing,” he says. “Here, there are a lot of people who are excited and wanting to help, which is pretty great.”
The fact that The Moxie is owned by a nonprofit speaks to what Stevens says is a shift among independent cinemas toward furthering an art rather than simply making money.
“I think the economic realities of running any movie house have totally changed,” he says, noting some small cinemas that opted not to change their business models threw in the towel instead.
Since coming on board at The Moxie, Stevens has seen plenty of local audiences eager for independent films such as the locally filmed “Winter’s Bone” and “Inside Job,” a documentary about the 2008 financial crisis narrated by Matt Damon.
Downtown Springfield Community Cinema is led by a volunteer board of directors, and in addition to tickets and concession sales, tax-deductible memberships with levels between $100 and $1,000 aim to provide sustainability – and a sense of community ownership – for the newly structured Moxie.
“I’ve been impressed with the film-going here, and I think that’s because there’s an appetite for being creative,” Stevens says.
“We’ve walked into this nonprofit (with) people who really kind of own The Moxie in spirit. They’re just people who are really interested in culture and art, and this has just become a great place to get it.”For more information on the 12 People You Need to Know series, click here.