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With ‘Castro in exile’ series, SF cinephiles fight to keep focus on film

The Castro Theatre | Adobe Stock

Spurred by the ongoing uncertainty around programming at the Castro Theatre in the wake of Another Planet Entertainment’s takeover of the venue, the Friends of the Castro Theatre Coalition recently launched the new film series “Castro in Exile,” which is designed to draw attention to the type of events they fear may eventually be phased out

The series’ inaugural event, a sing-along to the musical Grease, takes place at the Roxie Theater on Friday, April 7, at 6:30 p.m. Guests are encouraged to sing and dance the night away, with a costume contest and goodie giveaway included.

A scene from the film Grease (1978) including cast member John Travolta (right) and Olivia Newton-John (left). | Courtesy Paramount Pictures

The future of the Castro Theatre has become a lightning rod for the Castro and LGBTQ+ community. The Castro Theatre Conversancy would like to see the historic movie palace dedicated to screening both first-run and historically significant films, with fixed seating on a raked level floor to enjoy it. APE, along with the Nasser family who owns the Castro Theatre, would like to open up the venue for more kinds of programming, in part to raise funds for rehabilitating the theater.  

“I think that’s all a lot of noise,” said Stephen Torres, executive co-chair of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District Advisory Board, regarding the inability of movie ticket sales to bring in enough money to make the theater sustainable. 

Torres pointed to the nonprofit model as an option (it’s how the Mission’s Roxie Theater operates) and noted that the movie palace had an impressive lineup of donors through the Castro Theatre Conservancy. 

Yet with the rise of streaming and shifting habits due to the pandemic, movie theaters have struggled to turn profits. The independent movie house the 4-Star Theater cited “incredible financial challenges” since it reopened in December 2022 and is running a GoFundMe to help cover costs.  

The organizers of the “Castro in Exile” series comprise various stakeholders, including members of the Castro Theatre Conservancy, the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, the Castro Merchants Association and the Frameline Film Festival. 

“With ‘Castro in Exile,’ we hope to provide a little of what our community has missed in the year since the Castro has been under Another Planet Entertainment’s management,” Torres said.

"Gaybraham Lincoln" addresses the Historic Preservation Commission in City Hall regarding an amendment to the landmark designation of the Castro Theatre. | Julie Zigoris/The Standard

While upcoming events at the Castro include screenings for the SFFILM Festival and an evening with Jane Fonda to launch Pride Month, critics of APE’s takeover have pointed out that the venue has frequently remained dark. “The past year of stewardship under APE has been emotionally rough,” Torres said. 

“Sounds like a terrific event,” said David Perry, spokesman for Another Planet when reached for comment. “I hope they sell out all 250 seats at the Roxie.”

Perry said that Another Planet will continue to host sing-alongs in the 1,400-seat Castro Theatre, and noted last year’s Sound of Music sing-a-long. 

“The Castro Theatre isn’t in exile: It’s in process,” he said. 

Yet Torres questions the real motivations for APE’s takeover, claiming that the company is in need of a midsize venue and is interested in the Castro not only for music events but also for private rentals. 

“Does the Castro Theatre actually need them [APE], or do they need the Castro?” he asked. 

Castro in Exile: Sing-Along Grease

🗓️ Friday, April 7 | 6:30 p.m.
📍 Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St.
🎟️ $18

Julie Zigoris can be reached at