With Programming Going Strong, The Frida Cinema Shifts Its Focus to Sustainability

Sarah Rafael García/VOICE OF OC

Logan Crow, behind the snack counter at The Frida Cinema.

The Frida Cinema opened its doors on February 21, 2014, with the belief that every community — particularly a community like Santa Ana that is overflowing with culture, diversity, creators and dreamers — deserves a mission-driven, community-based art house theater serving as a cultural center for the celebration of cinema and safe space for all.

Currently in its fifth year of existence, The Frida Cinema showcases dozens of films a month that are carefully curated to offer a wide range of genres, with a focus on foreign, avant-garde, cult, horror, LGBTQ+, revival, documentary, and animated films. By complementing its cinematic offerings with other artistic experiences such as concerts, discussions, art shows, overnight film marathons, interactive film screenings, and film festivals, such as the Sikhlens, The World’s Premier Sikh Film Festival that is hosted annually in November, The Frida Cinema reaches communities from Orange to Los Angeles to Riverside counties.

Photo courtesy of The Frida Cinema

Members of the Sikhlens, The World’s Premier Sikh Film Festival at The Frida Cinema.

Yet the theater continues to offer more by collaborating with local arts and education organizations both within and beyond its walls.

For 2020, Frida founder and executive director Logan Crow is focusing on sustainability, not just for the profit line but to continue providing community-engaged cinema programming as the only local art house in Santa Ana.

“I knew that if it was going to work, the focus had to be 100 percent on programming — start to program the films, start to bring in diverse groups and connect directly with the community. Doing everything I dreamt of doing as a community-based art house,” Crow said.

The Frida’s first art show, “Women in Art,” was hosted one month after its opening. But Crow knew he was not an art curator, nor was he going to try to become one in a city brimming with a community of relentless, culturally diverse artists and curators. The  show was curated by Alicia Rojas, a local Santa Ana artist, and focused on local women — an obvious choice given that the show was presented was during March 2014 (March is women’s history month), and that The Frida pays homage to the iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

“Logan reached out to the local artists’ community when The Frida was about to open. It was great to see that the new indie theater owner cared about connecting to the local artists’ community and wanted to make sure that he was inclusive in his process coming into a new city,” said Rojas.

For larger non-profits focused on national or global causes that are successfully motivated without direct connections to a local community, efforts like Crow’s might be easy to criticize and dismiss. And for Crow himself, it has been challenging to balance his personal life, non-profit goals and love for cinema on a daily basis.

When Crow first dreamed about The Frida Cinema, he was busy in Long Beach organizing niche film screenings and community events. Through those formative experiences, he learned the importance of making space for others. Eventually, he fulfilled his hope to create a permanent home for film that would be more than just a profit-driven theater.

Now, The Frida Cinema is a place where Crow’s infectious good humor and brilliant film knowledge can be put to maximum use. As a community-based, mission-driven cinema, it serves as a partner for fellow cultural, nonprofit, and educational organizations in Santa Ana and neighboring areas.

Over the course of five years, Crow’s theater has collaborated with well over 200 partners, including schools, senior groups, independent businesses, artists and arts institutions, theater troupes, libraries, culinary institutions, and organizations dedicated to suicide prevention, human trafficking, animal ethics, LGBTQ+ equality and immigrants’ rights.

Photo courtesy of Keefer

Drag performers Isabella Xochitl and Kunda Couture (center) and Santa Ana Public Library youth and librarians at the Drag Storybook Hour event.

Under Crow’s direction, The Frida Cinema co-hosted Drag Storybook Hour with the Santa Ana Public Library, provides free outdoor family screenings, and has donated hundreds of film tickets and gift cards to community groups for their raffles and auctions. Additionally, it opens its space to all via partner screenings that include discussions with relevant role-models like Dolores Huerta and tributes to beloved legends like Selena and Toni Morrison. And it continues to receive praise after more than 60 months.

“(Crow) certainly wants his community to engage with great film, but maybe more than that, he wants them to engage with each other as they share his curated, communal programming,” said Craig Watson, former director of the California Arts Council and the Arts Council for Long Beach

Photo courtesy of Alberto Balthazar Romero

From left, Michele Martinez, former mayor pro tem on the Santa Ana city council, Dolores Huerta, labor leader and civil rights activist, and Logan Crow, executive director of The Frida Cinema, at the Dolores movie showing and discussion.

And the Frida’s community-engagement continues into the next generation. It offers a “Film Club” membership to engage cinema enthusiasts to lend support throughout the year, outside of daily ticket sales. As the first-generation son of an Ecuadorean man and Nicaraguan woman, and as a gay man himself, Crow understands the importance of cultural representation, relevant role models, and access to diversity of expression in the arts. Running a non-profit organization that holds these values above profit when it comes to its programming, Crow also understands the need for financial sustainability on-and-off the screen, and in that effort The Frida Cinema provides ample volunteer and internship opportunities.

Crow aspires to join forces with other like-minded community-based entities to establish art-to-entrepreneurship mentorship programming. Over the years, the Frida has been home to over a dozen film festivals showcasing films by students, from the young students of Heninger Elementary to the budding career filmmakers of Orange Coast College. Crow recalls his collaboration with Polo Munoz with Creating Creators and Heninger Elementary as one of his most incredible experiences at The Frida Cinema.

“It was the first time that I have seen a collection of films directed by people that young. I felt extremely proud to see two theaters filled with elementary school students who were about to take in independent films, short films, locally-made films by their peers,” Crow said.

“I truly feel that the The Frida Cinema…is what a community cinema can be. I believe that the intention that its founder Logan Crow had at heart, to make sure the community had a place to see themselves and feel the beauty of their culture, is constantly reinforced by the programs that are embraced by Logan,” said Polo Munoz, co-founder and chief creative officer

In 2020, Crow hopes to do more free family outdoor screenings and activate spaces outside of the theater. Crow is also working to acquire equipment to feature 35mm film and establish a community-based podcast. The Frida is also open to listening to ideas from the local residents of Santa Ana in order to provide a collaborative safe space through cinema, cultural programming and community sustainability.

Photo courtesy of Alberto Balthazar Romero

Free family outdoor screening on a parking lot rooftop in Santa Ana.

For Crow, including top-selling movies on The Frida Cinema billboard for the sake of keeping the doors open is not an option. He realizes five years is just the beginning, and he will actively seek support via grants, marketing and sponsorships throughout 2020. “The Frida Cinema is an experiment and dream come true for me,” said Crow,
“but I want to work with the community to make it a dream come true for them, to collaborate with local folks and never send an email out stating ‘we’re so sorry to inform you, this theater has closed.’”

Sarah Rafael García is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at sarah@sarahrafaelgarcia.com.