Indie Theater Lights Up St. Pete


Mike Hazlett, the founder of Green Light Cinema (221 2nd Avenue N), has always loved movies. Not the strictly money-making, “empty calorie” like franchises that currently plague the box office, but the films that bond the fabric of community together through a web of intricate characters, aesthetics, and captivating plot. 

Six years ago, Hazlett moved to St. Pete from Boston with his wife and was searching for a cool, independent movie theater. Realizing we were lacking one, he knew he needed to fill this glaring hole by starting his own. When he opened Green Light Cinema in October 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hazlett’s primary goal was (and still is) to remind St. Pete citizens to appreciate films inside theaters, without distractions. “As long as people sit down and see the movie… we’ve succeeded,” Hazlett believes. 

While the pandemic challenges have eased slightly, the “movie theater attendance crisis” persists. Since 2019, the movie industry has lost 70% of its profit, however huge franchises like Marvel are still staying strong. With a focus on indie films as well as classics, Green Light Cinema will not play big-budget superhero movies that are shown constantly at corporate chain theaters. “Building a connection with the audience” has always been the heart of Green Light. By playing older films such as The Graduate (1967) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), older members of DTSP come rushing to the theater to reminisce about a time when the movie business was still the center of pop culture. However, by showing recent Oscar nominees, such as Licorice Pizza (2021), Green Light has attracted slightly younger movie fans. Due to the pandemic and the declining industry, he says that it is “impossible to gauge” where the future of film will go. 

By building an aesthetically-pleasing theater, with reclaimed seats found in the dumpster of AMC Sundial theater, a lit up palm tree in the lobby, and walls plastered with movie posters like Local Hero (1983) (Hazlett’s favorite film), Away We Go (2009), and Vertigo (1958), the theater showcases exactly what it stands for: an appreciation for the art of film. Hazlett encourages us to “lose [ourselves in the films], to learn something,” because the shared experience inside the theater is how we can ensure movies will flourish for generations to come.