Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Another work day has passed without me getting any work done.

Actually … that’s not accurate—in fact, other than a break for my physical therapy appointment, I’ve been toiling at my desk all darned day. So let me restate: Another work day has passed without me getting any newspapering done.

I have at least a half-dozen stories in the figurative hopper to edit and post. I have a couple of calls to make for a story I am working on myself. I need to start laying out the Coachella Valley Independent Coloring Book—which is going to be unbelievably cool, by the way—so we can put it on sale Friday. And I have some stuff on the sales-side I need to do, especially since the deadline for our May print edition is sneaking up next week. (Hey, wanna buy an ad? Drop me a line.)

But other than that pathetic parenthetical sales pitch to conclude that last paragraph, and this Daily Digest, no newspapering got done today. Instead, I participated in a conference all with other publishers on how they’re dealing with this mess. I tried, without success, to figure out how in the hell to finish applying for an SBA loan. And I spent a whole lot of time applying for more grants.

I speak for all other small-business owners trying to keep the lights on during this mess when I say: Bleh.

So … tomorrow, I have decided, I will ignore loan applications for a day. I will eschew all conference calls. And I will just edit and write and layout and sell and yay.

One other thing I’ll do: I’ll count my blessings. I know I am one of the lucky ones. I am healthy; I am safe; I have purpose; I have a fridge full of food. If you’re feeling annoyed, or down, or frustrated, I recommend you take stock, and think of the blessings you have.

Also, as we’ve said before in this space: We’re going to get through this. It’s going to take longer than any of us would like, and a complete return to a COVID-19-free existence is probably going to take much longer than any of us would like. But we’re in the midst of what should be the worst of it right now, and we’re at least surviving, right?

Hang in there, folks. And watch and this space for all sorts of excellent copy tomorrow.

Today’s links:

• The big news of the day: Gov. Newsom laid out his vague, no-timeline-yet “road to recovery” for the state. It’s vague, and it’s depressing, and a lot of things need to happen, but take some solace in the fact that we’re at least able to talk about steps toward reopening California. Right?

• The other big news of the day: The president says he’s going to halt U.S. funding of the World Health Organization. Yes, he’s doing this in the middle of a pandemic. No, nothing makes sense anymore.

Stimulus deposits are starting to show up in bank accounts. If yours hasn’t arrived yet, CNN explains when you can expect it, and how you can check on its status.

• Oh, and because things are terrible, the feds aren’t stopping banks and debt collectors from seizing those stimulus checks.

• This is sort of a worst-case scenario, so take this with a large grain of salt: This social distancing crap could last until 2022 if we don’t develop a vaccine. Or an effective treatment. Or etc.

The Los Angeles Times talked to a UCLA epidemiologist and infectious-disease expert about the prospects of reopening California. It’s an interesting piece, with this key takeaway: “Evolutionarily speaking, it’s to the virus’ benefit to mutate where it’s even more contagious but less deadly ‘because it doesn’t do the virus any good to kill its human host to be able to transmit.’” So, we should root for mutations, I guess?

• Example No. 138,936 of how truly little we know about this damned coronavirus: It appears that simply positioning some patients on their stomachs rather than their backs can make a big difference in recovery success.

• Example No. 138,937 of how truly little we know about this damned coronavirus: We don’t even know how far COVID-19 can travel in “aerosolized droplets.” Two thoughts: 1) Sigh. 2). Ew.

• Some local small-business news: Lulu California Bistro, one of the valley’s biggest restaurants, will be open for takeout business starting Thursday. And to raise funds to support employees, the Mary Pickford Theatre in Cathedral City will be selling popcorn and other movie-theater treats on Friday and Saturday for pickup.

• The Conversation brings us this piece from an Oberlin professor of sociology pointing out that the pandemic may prove to be fatal to many communities’ gay bars.

• Speaking of depressing-if-unsurprising news for the LGBT community: San Francisco Pride has officially been cancelled.

Major League Baseball is participating in a study that will test up to 10,000 people for coronavirus antibodies—but this is just for science, and won’t help the game return any faster, according to ESPN.

• This has nothing to do with COVID-19 at all, but screw it: Here’s how to make shot glasses out of bacon and chocolate.

That’s all for now. Submit your online event info to our calendar here. Thank you to all of you who have become Supporters of the Independent recently; if you’d like to join them in helping us to continue doing what we do, find details here. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you absolutely must leave home. More tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

Today, in 2019, we have Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. Thirty years ago, in 1989, we had Truvy, M’Lynn, Ouiser, Clairee and, of course, Shelby.

Those are the strong female characters from Steel Magnolias—and Cathedral City’s Mary Pickford 14, in partnership with Fathom, Turner Classic Movies and TriStar, will be among the theaters presenting showings of the film on Sunday, May 19, and Wednesday, May 22, to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Steel Magnolias takes place in a small Louisiana parish and is based on a true story. Writer Robert Harling wrote both the screenplay and the play that preceded it as a memorial to his sister, Susan, after she died from complications related to diabetes in 1985. She is represented by the character of Shelby (played by Julia Roberts in an Oscar-nominated performance), and the story is about the strong ties between the friends who live in this tight-knit community. It’s a community that celebrates all the residents’ highs and lows—both the good and bad events in each other’s lives. We get to experience Shelby’s life-changing moments all the way to the end. Steel Magnolias shows that even though you may feel like you have not made much of an impact on other people, you really have, in some way.

The film was both a critical and commercial success, and Steel Magnolias remains wildly popular three decades later thanks to the strong female characters and the fantastic storyline. In other words, it can now be called a classic—and this is why Fathom Events has chosen to give the film special 30th anniversary screenings at the Mary Pickford 14 and other theaters across the country.

Damon Rubio, whose D’Place Entertainment owns the Mary Pickford 14, explained the partnership between Fathom Events and theaters like his.

“This partnership brings many films to a new generation,” Rubio said. “This gives people an opportunity to see these films on a large screen, like they should be seen.”

I asked him to explain the partnership between the Mary Pickford and Fathom Events.

“Fathom is like a studio; they are a content provider, and they license out films to theaters, and then they also help promote them,” Rubio said. “They work with classic films instead of first-run movies … This is only one of several films that Fathom will be presenting this year. We will be showing Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan and Field of Dreams, just as examples. We will also be showing music concerts, such as Led Zeppelin. There are also offerings of opera, anime, big-stage live productions and sporting events such as boxing.

What is so special about watching a classic film at a movie theater?

“We also offer an experience,” Rubio said. “You can come and sit in the recliners, have a nice beer or wine—and have a café that serves while enjoying your movie,” he said.

Whether you’ve seen Steel Magnolias before or not, a word of advice: Bring your tissues! You’ll need them.

Steel Magnolias will be screened for its 30th anniversary at 4 p.m., Sunday, May 19; and 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at Mary Pickford Is D’Place, 36850 Pickfair St., in Cathedral City. Tickets are $11.95. For tickets or more information, visit Other local, chain-owned theaters will be showing Steel Magnolias on Sunday, May 19; Tuesday, May 21; and Wednesday, May 22; for a complete schedule, visit

Published in Previews and Features

In a world where Coachella Valley residents must drive an hour or more to see a full-scale opera, several local movie theaters dare to screen wanton warblers and bronzed barihunks performing live at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

This season, the Mary Pickford 14 and a handful of local chain-owned multiplexes are projecting real-time performances from the Met in high-definition video transmitted by satellite. The theaters are among around 2,000 movie houses in 66 countries picking up the live operacasts. Each season, the Met offers 10 of the two-dozen opera productions it keeps in its annual repertory to movie-house audiences, splitting the profits from admission with the local theaters.

The sampling is usually a good representation of the Met’s fare, this season ranging from the ever-popular Carmen and La Traviata through such edge-of-repertory items as Adriana Lecouvreur.

The satellite transmissions began in late 2006 and initially stirred some controversy. Opera companies in mid-sized communities fretted that the Met program would steal audience from local, live productions. The Met countered that by taking its world-class presentations to the provinces, at a price lower than that charged by opera houses ($23.50, in the case of the shows at the Mary Pickford 14), it would actually generate more interest in local live efforts.

After 12 years, there’s no hard data to support either claim. But the question is moot in the Coachella Valley, a veritable operatic desert. The Palm Springs Opera Guild undertakes an extensive education program, but its annual Opera in the Park affair in Palm Springs (next scheduled for April 7, 2019) is a concert of operatic greatest hits rather than a full-scale production of a single work. And while Palm Desert’s McCallum Theatre hosts an array of ambitious touring shows, opera tends not to be among them—unless you count Rent, a rock treatment of the tale told in Puccini’s La Bohème.

Damon Rubio, the owner of D’Place Entertainment, which manages the Mary Pickford 14, said he brings in The Met’s opera series to fill the Coachella Valley’s operatic void.

“It’s a really unique way to experience these amazing productions that you can’t otherwise experience unless you get on a jet and fly to New York,” Rubio said,

Six productions remain in this season of the series formally known as The Met: Live in HD. All of the productions will be broadcast on Saturday mornings, with encore showings the following Wednesday afternoons (and some evenings).

Verdi’s La Traviata (9:55 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 15; encore at 1 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 19) is certainly one of the five most-popular operas around. Through several familiar arias and ensemble numbers, it tells not of Verdi’s usual strife among kings and princesses; instead, it focuses on a sickly courtesan, the young man who loves her, and the father who comes to regret tearing them apart. Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez star as the lovers; the Met’s incoming artistic director (replacing the disgraced James Levine), Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conducts.

Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur (9:55 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 12; encore at 1 and 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 16), is one of those edge-of-repertory staples familiar to hard-core opera lovers, but known mainly for a single aria to less-obsessive fans. It’s a late-Romantic effusion notorious for its confusing plot revolving around the poisoning-by-violets (hey, it’s Italian opera) of a famous actress. Anna Netrebko brings star power to the title role.

Bizet’s Carmen (9:55 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 2; encore at 1 and 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 6), is probably the best opera for newbies. The story is easy to follow; the characters are colorful (a gypsy who draws an impetuous Spanish army officer into a ring of smugglers, but dumps the poor schmuck for a celebrity bullfighter); and it contains the most hummable tunes ever (which were the basis of the only good episode of Gilligan’s Island). The Met is using this as a showcase for mezzo Clémentine Margaine, who seems to sing hardly anything else.

Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment) (9:55 a.m., Saturday, March 2; encore at 1 and 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 6), despite the preponderance of soldiers onstage, is actually a light romantic comedy that nevertheless challenges the vocal abilities of the lead soprano. In this case, the aptly named Pretty Yende is the titular daughter in a production that has been updated from the 19th century to World War I. Perhaps the most intriguing element is a non-singing cameo by actress Kathleen Turner.

Wagner’s Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) (9 a.m., Saturday, March 30; encore at 12:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 3) is known to generations of cartoon-lovers as the source of the Elmer Fudd aria “Kill the Wabbit.” It’s everything about opera that the animated short skewers: women sporting breastplates and spears, heroes who aren’t all that smart, dark and craggy settings, a beefy orchestra, and a whole lotta hootin’ and hollerin’. Oh, there’s also incestuous love, and a woman whose Norse god of a father strips her of her immortality and traps her in a ring of fire. Always the big question with the Met’s productions of Wagner’s Ring operas: Will the enormous, complex stage machinery break down?

Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites (9 a.m., Saturday, May 11; encore at 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 15) is set in a convent during the darkest days of the French Revolution, and ends with one of the most compelling choral scenes in all opera: One by one, each of the nuns is silenced as she falls victim to the guillotine. The work dates from the late 1950s, but aside from a few piquantly sour harmonies typical of Poulenc, it is not dense and atonal, as was common at that time. The versatile Isabel Leonard, a Met stalwart for the past 10 years, takes the lead role.

While some may dismiss the experience of watching a live show broadcast on a screen, Rubio said the Live in HD series is actually a superior experience in some ways.

“When you’re seeing it on the big screen, it’s like you have a front-row seat every time,” Rubio said. “The sound quality is great, and that lends a ‘wow’ factor. I’m actually more appreciative (of these shows) after watching them on the big screen. I am blown away by the production values.”

For more information on The Met: Live in HD, visit For more information on the Mary Pickford 14, visit Jimmy Boegle contributed to this story.

Published in Theater and Dance

Long before newsfeeds, Facebook, 24-hour news networks and even beepers, people got their information from things like news magazines. It may sound like crazy talk, but it’s true.

One of these news magazines—one which has played a vital role in the LGBT community—is The Advocate. It was started as a newsletter by an activist group following a police raid on a Los Angeles gay bar, the Black Cat Tavern, on Jan. 1, 1967—a couple of years before the Stonewall riots in New York City. The newsletter covered the demonstrations against police brutality; later that year, the newsletter was transformed into a newspaper.

The history of The Advocate since those first days is the subject of a new documentary—and it’s one of the highlights of Cinema Diverse, the local LGBT film festival, which will take place at the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center Sept. 20-23, with a “bonus weekend” taking place at Mary Pickford Is D’Place in Cathedral City the following weekend.

“This year, Cinema Diverse is opening with A Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate Celebrates 50 Years,” said Michael Green, the Cinema Diverse festival director and the executive director of the Palm Springs Cultural Center. “This is going to be a really cool story to share with the audience on opening night. It is a retrospective of the 50 years from the start of the magazine up to the current day.

“It’s a huge historic piece and important. Laverne Cox is narrating it, and the music is provided by Melissa Etheridge. … It covers the pre-Stonewall era from the Los Angeles perspective, the AIDS crisis, marriage equality and up to present day. It’s even more powerful to those of us who have lived in the Palm Springs area during that time and have seen the changes that have occurred.”

A Long Road to Freedom is just one of the documentaries included in the Cinema Diverse schedule. “There’s a huge variety of documentaries this year. We have a film about gay comics and another about gay (erotic) comic-book illustrators and so many more,” Green said.

Cinema Diverse, of course, has offerings going beyond documentaries.

“We have several great musicals this year,” Green said. “They cover a variety of subjects, both as feature films and as shorts. Musicals are great. Even though the characters may have troubles throughout, the endings are usually very uplifting. We also have horror films this year; you could classify them as thriller-type films that are pretty good.”

Why is it important to include films like thrillers/horror movies in an LGBT film festival?

“Movies focused on LGBTQ characters … the audience can relate to,” Green said. “We are also screening Devil’s Path, a real psychological thriller by Matthew Montgomery, a popular LGBTQ actor. People who are familiar with him will be really excited to see it.

“As always, we have some really good foreign films, like A Moment in the Reeds, from Finland. It’s a fun and beautiful story.”

Movies by local filmmakers are a key part of Cinema Diverse.

“We have a local film (producer) named Marc Smolowitz. His most recent film is called 50 Years of Fabulous. It’s all about the Imperial Council from its inception and over the last 50 years,” Green said; the Imperial Court System is a series of organizations that raise money for charitable causes. “Again, it’s a historical film that touches Palm Springs and a story that’s close to home to anyone who is familiar with the Imperial Court System. … Since Marc is local, this makes the film even more special.”

One of the films Green is most excited about is 1985, based on a renowned short film with the same name.

“It’s about the very beginning of the AIDS crisis and a young, closeted guy who goes home to Texas,” Green said. “It’s a very poignant film. It’s filmed largely in black and white. It’s a very powerful.” Gotham’s Cory Michael Smith is the star.

“As in previous years, there will be a lot of filmmakers and actors here to represent their films. There are more films this year than previously, both features and shorts,” Green said.

Cinema Diverse takes place Thursday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 23, and Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28 and 29. Individual screenings are $13.25, while an all-festival pass costs $159. For tickets and more information, including a festival schedule, visit the Cinema Diverse website.

Published in Previews and Features

A couple of years ago, Damon Rubio found himself at a career crossroads.

The executive vice president at UltraStar Cinemas had been with the company for more than 15 years, and in the movie-theater business since 1991. However, the owners of the company were getting older and had started selling off locations—so Rubio knew his time with UltraStar would be coming to a close.

“I had to decide: Did I want to work for someone else, or take the plunge and do something for myself?” he said.

He didn’t want to move his family out of Southern California, and he’d maxed out his career opportunities in the area, more or less—so he decided to take that plunge.

UltraStar had been managing the Mary Pickford Theatre and the nearby Desert Cinemas, the former IMAX theater, in Cathedral City. However, the lease came to an end last year, so Rubio went straight to the landlord and cut a deal.

D’Place Entertainment was born.

Having been in a similar situation myself, I have an affinity for people who take that plunge and venture out on their own. While I have been petrified with fear at times as a small-business owner, Rubio said he’s had a calmer experience.

“I learned it’s maybe not as scary as I expected it to be,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s easy. But a lot of people dream of owning their own business, and the first step, diving in, is the hardest part.”

Of course, every small business faces challenges. Rubio is looking to expand D’Place beyond Cathedral City, and he said his company’s relative newness has led to some difficulties.

“We’re a young company, and I’m having to make a name for myself,” Rubio said. “My experience is obviously a huge part of what I go in and sell, but when I talk about all my experience with the previous company, (potential partners) sometimes will say, ‘That’s great! By the way, can you give us the phone number for that company?’”

The movie-theater business itself is facing some trying times, given the increasing number of ways that people can enjoy movies. However, Rubio said he’s confident movie theaters will be around for many years to come.

“People have been pronouncing theaters dead for years,” he said. “But none of those predictions came true. People have kitchens at home, yet restaurants continue to survive.”

Rubio said the key to theaters’ survival is making going to the movies a true experience, with better seating, higher-quality refreshments and enhancements to the movie-watching experience itself. He points to recent improvements at the Mary Pickford as examples: Recliners can be found throughout the cineplex, and D-Box motion-effects seating is offered with some films. One theater also offers the Barco Escape format, with the movie shown on a panoramic three screens.

However, all of these enhancements also have an up-charge—leading to another worry.

“My biggest concern is that theaters offering all of these high-end experiences will result in high-end prices,” Rubio said. “We don’t want that. We want to keep family-friendly prices.”

What’s the next big thing for the movies?

“It’ll be interesting to see how virtual reality plays a role, be it in the way movies are promoted, or in the actual exhibition of movies,” Rubio said. “The great thing about theaters is we’re able to provide a mass experience, and that gives us an opportunity to be a place where new technology can come.”

After a little more than a year of ownership, Rubio said things are going well for D’Place Entertainment. Owning his own company is just a continuation of Rubio’s love affair of movies, which began when he stood in line to see the original Star Wars as a kid at the Polar Theatre in Anchorage, Alaska. He said he still gets tingles when he thinks of the first moments of Star Wars, with the crawl and the star destroyer flying into the screen.

“There’s always been something in me that wanted to recapture that moment,” Rubio said. “I realize that I am not just selling movies; I am selling that experience I had as a child.”

For more information, visit

Published in Features