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Jim Nicola

(Photo by Kevin Scanlon)

Longtime Nuart theater fans remember when the concession stand had an old-fashioned wooden till in lieu of a cash register and workers behind the counter had to calculate snack totals and change all in their heads. Tickets were bought from the near-dilapidated booth that, upon peering inside, revealed itself to be full of papers and old books. It really wasn’t that long ago. But like an aging starlet mainlining Botox, the West L.A. theater has had a spiffy overhaul that brings it square into the 21st century. What hasn’t changed in more than 10 years is the Nuart’s leadership, which comes in the form of the very chill, laid-back but friendly Jim Nicola, who, in 1996, after working there part time for a few years, became the theater’s manager.

Exactly what do you do as a theater manager?

Multitask. You name it, I do it. I wear dozens of hats.

What’s the best part of your job?

Working with the wonderfully creative and unique people who orbit this theater — all of them tremendously passionate about film. From the artists, musicians and film geeks employed here to everyone involved in making, distributing and publicizing the films — film critics included. And our patrons, all of whom come here wide-eyed and with open minds. All are hugely supportive of what we do.

What’s the hardest part?

Offering solace to filmmakers when a film doesn’t gross as well as it should. So much effort goes into making and releasing a film that it’s sometimes heartbreaking. Cinema is the medium of and for the masses, but mass, as we all know, is not necessarily a criterionfor quality. And, unfortunately, it’s sometimes the case to have the best-reviewed film in L.A. open with only a handful of people in the audience. Who was it who said the more people that like a film the worse it probably is?

What’s a favorite Nuart memory?

I had the opportunity to pick up David Lynch’s print of Eraserhead for a midnight screening from the Lynch compound up in the hills, complete with a guided tour — unfortunately not by Lynch, who was in Poland at the time. I was witness to paintings in progress and an elaborate bird feeder with a squirrel-preclusion device.

What makes the Nuart such a great theater?

The Nuart is an L.A. institution. There’s nothing else like it, and you can’t see these films anywhere else. Call them indie, edgy, art house, foreign or whatever, it’s essential cinema. And we’re always ahead of the curve.

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