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Too cool for school 

Burton Theatre co-founder Nathan Faustyn talks of the wild, short life — and afterlife — of the downtown art house cinema

The Burton Theatre, an ambitious, adventurous and occasionally radical experiment to convert a closed Cass Corridor elementary school auditorium into a cult cinema palace, was forced to shut down last Sunday. A protracted dispute with the landlord appears to be to blame. The area's hoped-for cultural revival didn't blossom the moment the Burton opened its doors, but they did make an impression. They screened Robocop before statue-mania swept national media, they brought in maverick artist Crispin Glover, threw "cinema barbecues" and exposed local viewers to Korean horror films, tiny documentaries, and experimental films that weren't coming to any other theater near you.

Metro Times: So what happened?

Nathan Faustyn: Unfortunately I have a prepared statement from our lawyer that I have to stick to. This has been coming for a long time. After having only a verbal agreement, after 18 months of operation, we couldn't negotiate a long-term lease.

MT: How many weeks did you have booked ahead of time?

Faustyn: Dude, unfortunately, I'd booked all the way through July.

MT: It was always your intent that the Burton was going to keep going?

Faustyn: This came out of the blue. It basically happened Saturday afternoon, and we had to move out by Sunday night.

MT: Are you bunkering together now?

Faustyn: Right now we're looking at different opportunities ... but I can assure you that there will be a presence from our core group, and that there will be another Burton.

MT: What was the response been like the last few days?

Faustyn: It's been out of control. It really did bolster our zeal to get this going again. We've had a ton of people lending ideas, lending a hand, talking about new spaces.

MT: Was the experiment a success?

Faustyn: Definitely. I think culturally the things we were doing, we were operating on a high level, and even the nonmovie events were essential to the community. We had the Crispin Glover event. We had the live scores to silent cinema, and interesting music.

MT: Is there anything you plan to do differently?

Faustyn: We learned a lot of lessons through all this. It was in our mission statement that we wanted to have LGBT programming, but due to some financial constraints and short-sightedness, we never got into that. I'd make us a place where the Detroit chapter of the anime club could meet. The programming could be done a little differently ... there were some movies that couldn't carry a weekend ...

MT: You were never shy about trying odd-duck stuff ...

Faustyn: The goal is to continue that, but to try to be more realistic. We showed some great works that, if we made it a one-night or special event, people would have showed up because that was their only opportunity to see it. We had some movies that were incredibly high-quality that, unfortunately, weren't very well attended.

MT: Do you think you've now gauged the depth of the audience for maybe a Korean horror film?

Faustyn: Yeah, I think over the past 18 months we've started to see what does and doesn't work for the community. There have been some surprises.

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October 28, 2020

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