By Laurelle Walsh
Two Mazama couples are embarking on a business venture that will fill an entertainment void in our valley: a place to watch movies. A 2-acre lot just across from East 20 Pizza in Winthrop will be the location of The Barnyard, a new home for independent cinema in the Methow Valley.
If everything goes according to plan, business partners Robert and Sally Gatlin, and Steve and Genevieve Cole, expect to break ground this fall and begin screening films sometime in 2016, according to Genevieve Cole. They named the theater The Barnyard, because like a barnyard, it will be “a place where all different kinds of animals can congregate,” said Cole.
“We’re trying to bring something back that we think is important, culturally,” said Cole. “There’s power in watching a movie together. We want to get back to people sharing experiences.”
Getting together to watch a movie with other members of the community is a very different experience from sitting at home and watching a DVD alone, or even together with your family, Cole believes. “We hope to ease some of the isolation technology has brought to our lives,” she said.
The Coles and their three daughters moved to Mazama from Seattle three years ago, and while they love living here, “we also have urban proclivities,” Cole said. “We talked about what we missed about the city, and going out to the movies was high on our list.”
When she and her husband began dating, she said, they would often go out to a matinee and discuss the film over dinner afterward. And once they had kids, they would hire a babysitter and go out to a movie for a “date night,” she said.
The Barnyard will be a place where different age groups can have independent experiences: parents without kids and kids without parents, as well as offering something to share as families, Cole said. She envisions a place where parents with young children can have drinks and socialize in the theater’s lounge while the youngsters watch a movie. At the same time it will be a place where teenagers can congregate without adults.
And the location is perfect, she said, because kids can be dropped off for a movie, grab a pizza with their friends across the street, and then, staying on the Susie Stephens Trail, walk over to the ice rink for an evening skate, where their parents can pick them up again.
The partners want to have three films on the marquee, each running for two weeks at a time. They plan to select film titles targeting three viewer demographics: teens; adults in their 20s and 30s; and “mature” adults, who might be drawn to documentaries and foreign films, Cole said.
They plan to screen mostly independent films produced outside the major film studios, and are taking some of their inspiration from other art-house-type cinemas in the Northwest, like The Rose Theater and its Starlight Room in Port Townsend, and the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham.
“We are thinking of it as a screening room, not just a movie theater,” said Cole. “We hope to bring the community together through the visual medium,” by also offering a place to screen sporting events like the World Cup or specials like the Academy Awards.
Cole would like to tie some of the theater’s programming into the school curriculum “to support what the teachers are doing,” she said. That could include showing a film like “The Outsiders” after the seventh-grade English classes read the book. The Barnyard might even be a place where student-made films could be screened in a film-festival format, she added.
Plans for the barn-like building are currently being drawn up by Pinto Design of Mazama, and will include a 74-seat theater with a concessions area, bar and lounge. The unconventional movie house will feature “comfortable, modular seating” with cocktail tables for drinks and light food, she said.
Outdoors, they have plans for a fire pit and a bocce ball court. “It’s still a work in progress,” Cole said.
The Barnyard will “work harmoniously” with existing valley film festivals, such as Celestial Cinema and Telluride MountainFilm on Tour, said Cole. “There’s plenty of room for people to be entertained in multiple places in this valley,” she said.
Genevieve Cole is a writer with an MFA in creative non-fiction. Steve Cole is the publisher of Northwest Fly Fishing magazine. Robert and Sally Gatlin, both MBAs, have spent their careers in financial services. They moved full time to the Methow Valley last year with their twin 5-year olds.