Tucked away in Nob Hill lies a safe haven for Albuquerque cinephiles and subculturists alike at the city’s only remaining independent art house cinema. Keif Henley, owner of the Guild Cinema, retains the theater’s tradition of showcasing an alternative to the mainstream selections of most theaters.
The Guild Cinema first opened its doors in 1966, quickly shifting their offerings from independent art films to much more lucrative pornography showings. The theater traded hands in 1971, beginning again as a revival cinema before shifting back to its independent art house roots which persist to this day.
Henley started as an employee at the Guild in 1997. After six years, in 2003, the previous owners were primed to sell the theater and wanted him to buy it from them. Though Henley was cash strapped and came from a middle-class family, fate struck when his grandmother received a surprise windfall following the death of a cousin.
“I talked to my dad, telling him my tale of woe: that the movie theater that I worked at that I loved a lot could possibly be going out of business … My dad told me over the phone, maybe to call her and see … I told my grandmother about it and she said, ‘I’m good for that amount. You don’t have to pay me back because I’ll probably be dead in a couple of years,’” Henley said.
Before the Guild, Henley worked with local nonprofit Basement Films, a microcinema which works to support underground and experimental filmmaking. There, he helped turn Basement Films into a federal nonprofit organization. He found out about the job opening at the Guild through one of his colleague’s girlfriends who was a manager there.
“She told me … that she was looking for somebody to work on Mondays and I said, ‘Well, I don’t work Mondays and I would love to work at a movie theater; I’d work for less than minimum wage,’” Henley said.
Henley recalls himself and Bay Area experimental projectionist and business partner Peter Conheim as having very little business expertise, describing the two as “low-rent bohemian types.” Now, Henley oversees every aspect of the theater, from publicity to programming to bookkeeping, as well as running day-to-day tasks like projection, concessions and ticket-taking.
Kristina Cardoza is one of four other employees at the Guild. She first got involved there in 2019 while working an event for Basement Films held at the Cinema.
“Just by chance, I was waiting for a ride from my mom after I was finished with all the tasks I needed to do, and I asked Keif if there was anything I could do to help just in that moment, and he said, ‘Yeah, we need someone for Fridays and Saturdays.’ Absolutely not what I meant, but I took him up on that offer and I’m really glad I did,” Cardoza said.
Recently, Cardoza has been designing the monthly calendar that the Guild prints showcasing their line up of films for that month. She described Henley as an excellent boss with a genuine interest in film.
“He’s very nice, of course knows a ton about movies and music too, so we have a lot of fun talking about that. And he’s very hands-on so I mean, of course he’s my boss, he oversees everything that goes on at the Guild. But most nights it’s the two of us selling tickets and slinging popcorn together. He really does it all around here, really makes the Guild what it is,” Cardoza said.
For Cardoza, the kind and thoughtful community surrounding the cinema has been one of the highlights of working there for her. Wide swaths of people from all around Albuquerque with varying interests flock to the Guild for its unique screenings, according to Henley. The community around the theater also has a strong connection to the place; he recalls their enthusiastic involvement when the cinema did a fundraiser for new projection equipment.
“I think a lot of people like the idea of a ‘Guild Cinema’ even if they can’t attend many movies that we play. They like the idea of a locally owned art house cinema that plays alternative to the mainstream media, the mainstream theater chains and whatnot,” Henley said.
For Henley, the primary joy of running a cinema like the Guild is the proximity between the community and the theater and the capability for exchange granted through this.
“People who have been engaged with the movies we watched and the conversations we have afterwards: that’s really one of the highlights of running a movie theater like ours … There’s an exchange of ideas, of energy, of things like that, that I hope go beyond just the monetary exchange,” Henley said.
Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle