A Star Is Born: Pine Ridge Gets Its First Movie Theater
Kyle, South Dakota — Owning and running a sleek new twin theater is a dream come true for movie-lovers Angel Reddest and her mother, Monna Patton, both Oglala Lakota. The first movie house on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Nunpa (“two” in Lakota) opened on November 2 and has been packing side-by-side 160-seat and 200-seat halls ever since. The cinema is the latest of several recent additions to the burgeoning Pine Ridge economy—most of them in the Kyle area, anchored by Lakota Funds, a community development financial institution in this northern portion of the reservation.
People have driven to the theater from all over Pine Ridge, responding to flyers Reddest and Patton put up, a Facebook page announcing each week’s Thursday–Monday schedule and a sign on the building that displays the names of upcoming shows in bright red lights. “I knew Breaking Dawn, Part 2, part of the Twilight series, would be popular,” said Reddest. “We sold out three nights in a row. It was so exciting.”
Paranormal Activity 4 and Pitch Perfect were also big successes. “Everyone likes a scary movie,” explained Reddest, adding, “We work with a distributor to obtain the right films for us, including blockbusters, but we’re open to anything, such as independent works. We’d be happy to do a premiere.” Ticket prices range from $6 for matinees to evening prices of $6.75 for adults and $6.25 for children and seniors.
“It’s got to be the best little theater in South Dakota,” said Kyle resident Mark St. Pierre. “Huge screens, luxurious seating. And after the movie, you’re home in minutes. No more two-hour drives to Rapid City to see a film. It’s a miracle!”
Moviegoing is participatory, as far as Reddest is concerned. “Girls in the audience whooped when one of the actors took off his shirt in Breaking Dawn,” she reported with a laugh. Her favorite childhood movie memories include cheering for the Ewoks during a sold-out show of Return of the Jedi in a Rapid City theater. She went on to study art and journalism at Black Hills State University, then developed her business savvy co-running a convenience store in nearby downtown Kyle with her mother.
Patton agreed that movies are much more than what’s on the silver screen. “When I was young, my parents and nine kids would pile into the car and go to the drive in. Or my aunt would take us to the movies. We got to eat popcorn and hot dogs. We were allowed to chew gum—that was a big deal! I remember that as much as the movies themselves.”
For the past four years, mother and daughter have been building the theater bit by bit, hiring local companies to do everything from construction and plumbing to electrical work and drywall—all that was needed to put up and outfit the facility. The comfy theater seats are a handsome navy blue, and the bathrooms have high-tech, high-speed hand dryers that eliminate paper-towel waste and mess. The pair sank their savings into the project and obtained a loan from the South Dakota Development Corporation, part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “Everything we have is invested here—retirement savings, everything,” said Reddest.
Because the funding required a community-development component, mother and daughter helped build a sidewalk that increases safety for pedestrians in the housing area across the street, said Patton. Without the sidewalk, those walking along the narrow gravel road would be dangerously close to traffic, she pointed out. Through their grocery store, she and Reddest had already participated in a merchants’ program to fund streetlights in Kyle.
Creating the theater has been a 24/7 commitment, according to Reddest. “Every night for four years, I’ve dreamt of what needed to be done the next day,” she said. “The day we opened, we were putting railings up in the theaters. We worked up to the last minute.”
The intensity has barely let up. During shows, mother and daughter sell tickets and work the concessions—while still operating their nearby store during the day. Their eight employees—four full-time and four part-time—include a projectionist, cleaners and more helpers for ticket and concession sales.
“Getting the theater up and running was so hard,” said Patton, “but we’ve had wonderful support from the community.”
When Reddest saw the long line of people waiting to buy tickets on opening night, she knew everything would be all right: “I was so relieved and happy. I told myself, ‘It’s working!’”