An Exclusive Look at the Relaunch of Vidiots and The Eagle Theatre in Eagle Rock with Maggie Mackay
Interview by Eddie Gurrola Renderings and Artwork Courtesy of Wick Architecture and Zachary Johnson
Home Video has been there for us in a way we've never needed it before over the past year. In celebration of the format, we've reached out to the folks that own and operate some of the baddest video stores in America to hear about how they got started, where their passion comes from, and how they've adapted to new customer needs during the pandemic. In this special edition of the Video Store Spotlight, we've turned our attention to a store in our own backyard that has been closed for some time, but will be re-emerging, post-pandemic, in quite epic fashion. Maggie Mackay, Executive Director of Vidiots Foundation, joined us for a Q&A to discuss the re-opening of Vidiots and The Eagle Theatre, which we're excited to share below.
Maggie with Vidiots founders Patty Polinger & Cathy Tauber Photo: Thomas Garbett
Cinematic Void: Vidiots was founded in 1985 by Patty Polinger and Cathy Tauber, and its place in LA film culture is firmly established. I suspect there's an X-factor, or some sort of secret sauce, that you all have discovered, about how to create an environment that produces not only a sense of community, but also an enduring sense of affection, among Southern California film lovers. What is that X-factor, and how is it going to be integrated, if not elevated, at the new facility?
Maggie Mackay: The X-factors are our mission and our library. In 1985, Patty and Cathy were able to find and fill a gap in LA’s film culture. Even with video stores cropping up around them at the time, they still couldn’t access many of the films they wanted to watch -- docs, international titles, experimental films, work made by women, BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and local artists who were eager to get their work seen, but didn’t have an outlet. Patty and Cathy were also looking to build a space that went beyond transaction. They wanted to create a place, embedded in their community, that was fun, inspiring, and inclusive. From the get-go, Patty and Cathy were programming and producing events. There was always something happening at Vidiots, and almost immediately Vidiots became a “third space” for anyone who could get to it. Maintaining public access to our library, and fostering the community engagement we’re known for is, of course, why we’ve embarked on this ambitious re-launch. The transition to a new physical location and an exhibition space will allow us to expand on all that history and [that] mission, so we can keep inspiring film lovers for another 35 years.
Can you give us an update on the new facility? Is there an opening date in sight yet? I know better than to make public pronouncements about opening a film space in LA, so I’ll tread carefully here! We started fundraising to renovate our new home, The Eagle Theatre, [which is] almost 100 years old and [has been] dark for 20 years, a few months before the pandemic hit. As you can imagine, progress has been slower than we’d hoped, but our supporters are steadfast, and even through this time we’ve been able to grow our donor base. Now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, *knock wood*, getting the fundraising and awareness-building back on track is key, and we’re getting closer. Right now we’re aiming to start construction in June, which should put us opening in the early part of 2022. The more support we build, the sooner it happens!
From what we've heard, the new facility is not just a video store, and not just a movie theater -- it's designed to be a recreational center of sorts where folks can hang out and spend the day. Can you tell us about what you've got in store for us? We’re all about Vidiots as a “rec center” for film lovers and anyone curious about cinema! You’re correct, the two central spaces are the Eagle, a 250-seat, state-of-the-art movie theater with a large lobby and gathering space offering beer, wine, and a light, locally-sourced menu, and of course the video store and our 50,000+ titles, which will live in the storefront attached to the Eagle. Part of the retail space will also include our classic merch and unique retail, and serve as a flexible space for community events and smaller screenings. We’re lucky to be in an area that has some of the best places to eat, drink, and be entertained. We think of Vidiots as part of the larger fabric of our neighborhood and city, so no matter what you’re after -- a 15-minute drop-in, or a full weekend of fun -- you’ll find it with us or real close by.
Let's dive into the video store aspect of the new facility. We're curious, since you have so many rare films on VHS, is there a special process that goes into storing the tapes? Have there been thoughts about digitally preserving some of the rare work you own? The preservation of our rare VHS is central to our mission, as is growing the collection with work [that's] at risk of becoming inaccessible to the public. We started archiving and digitizing before we closed our Santa Monica location in 2017. We worked with professional archivists who identified the first 250 tapes, out of an 11,000-tape collection, for immediate preservation and digitizing. Of course, the final and most challenging step is licensing, so we can share those titles with audiences. Once we’re open, we’ll pursue funding and support for licensing. Preservation will be ongoing as we grow the collection and, sadly, as physical media becomes more at risk. As for the storage of our VHS, you’ll see a lot of tapes around the space. Most of the rare ones will be stored in safe, open shelving out of public reach to protect them, but the idea is to keep the collection available to archivists, filmmakers, programmers, academics -- anyone who needs access.
Also Check Out The Void's Video Store Spotlights with... Scarecrow (Seattle); CineFile (Los Angeles); Videodrome (Atlanta); Beyond Video (Baltimore)
Tell us about some of the rare VHS titles we can look forward to renting when the new facility opens... There are so many, and in practically every genre -- everything from BIRTH OUR OWN, an experimental doc by now well-known filmmaker and producer Heather Rae, to the confounding and absurd FLESH FEAST, Veronica Lake’s last film. [We have] so many documentaries and films that never made it to a digital format because of licensing issues, like IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD. [There's also] early works by Spike Lee, John Waters, and so many more. Something that separates Vidiots from other video stores around the world, is that we’re based in LA, and Patty and Cathy loved supporting local filmmakers. So, emerging artists, many of them now enormously accomplished today, knew [that] if they made something, they could drop it off to Patty and Cathy and it would live on the shelves waiting to be discovered, treated with as much affection and respect as some of the most valued titles in cinema history. We’re still as committed as ever to supporting emerging artists, and collecting great work regardless of box office, popularity, or critical attention.
Tell us about your horror/cult movie section. Has there been a specific genre-films-made-by-women sub-section in the past? That would be great to browse through...
We do have a lot of fun sub-genres, and of course we’re famous for our cult and horror sections and highlights, though there’s what one might call “genre” or “cult” [titles] on just about every rack. Not much at Vidiots is static. We love to create and highlight new collections of titles, but we’re careful not to get too crazy with the sections. It would drive people nuts to have to intuit all of the thousand-and-one-ways a film could be categorized. We also love tapping our staff, community, collaborators, current events, and history to dream up new sections. And we’ve definitely had a “Horror Films Made by Women” section at some point!
We have to ask about The Eagle Theatre as well. What is the vision for the theater aspect of the space? Will the theater be open to the public, or is it members-only? The plan for the theater is exciting, especially because Northeast LA has been deprived of access to independent rep cinema and community-centric programming for so long. While we’ll offer a variety of affordable membership tiers, the entire space will always remain public and open to all. The programming will be broad -- classics that should be seen on a big screen with an audience, titles from underrepresented artists, work that doesn’t often get screened, sneak peeks of new movies, hybrid film and music events, a lot of programming for all ages, and collaborations with other arts organizations around the city and country that have amazing programming but no dedicated brick-and-mortar. There are incredible film and media programmers in LA, and way beyond, and we want to give them an opportunity to regularly showcase their talents at the Eagle.
What if I, just as a movie enthusiast, walked in off the street and had a dream to program my own night of cinema. Is that part of the plan for the space as well, for people from the community to be able to host their own events with their friends? As Vidiots has since our founding, we’ll regularly work with our community to brainstorm and manifest memorable events and series. The flex space will be fantastic to that effect. The Eagle has a long, fun history of double bills, and films that have screened there from 1929 to the early 2000s, so a dream of mine is to have our friends in the neighborhood present films they saw there, in many cases alongside the filmmakers and talent from those films, which is the beauty of having a space like this in LA. The audience/artist connection is something we’re starting to lose with the obliteration of community-based theaters and video stores, and we’re here in large part to rectify that, and inspire others like us around the country to do the same for their communities.
And now for our final question. What are your top three (or four) personal favorite LA-set movies directed by women...
This is hard. There are a bunch, but here are some near and dear to my heart all the way around. Sorry, I got greedy! VALLEY GIRL (Martha Coolidge), LOVE AND BASKETBALL (Gina Prince-Bythewood), THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (Penelope Spheeris), and SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS (Tamara Jenkins).
The way The Eagle Theatre looked in 1972... Courtesy: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society
Look out for the re-opening of Vidiots and The Eagle Theatre in 2022! In the meantime, if you're looking to support the Vidiots Foundation, you can donate to the cause here. And to keep up with the latest happenings, check out Vidiots on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.