Bijou sees attendance boost


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Posters for Bijou films hanging in the halls of the IMU may now advertise films more familiar with students than the cinema’s past lineups.

But Bijou Executive Director Jesse Damazo insists the theater is still attracting students the way it always has — by screening independent and art-house films.

“If anything, we’re just doing more of it,” he said.

And the theater’s recent initiatives — including partnerships with other organizations and making tickets free for University of Iowa students — seem to be working to attract more people.

Attendance for Bijou film screenings has jumped from 9,574 during the 2009-10 school year to a projected 14,800 this academic year. This comes after Damazo, a UI graduate student in film and video production, and UI senior Zane Umsted, the theater’s executive programmer, started the projects.

Umsted said he believes the free-ticket initiative is largely responsible for the increased attendance because it encourages students to give the sometimes-obscure Bijou films a try.

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“Our main goal is for students to give [the Bijou] a chance and keep coming back,” he said.

UI freshman Chelsea Hoye, who has worked in the Bijou ticket booth frequently on nights when the Bijou shows its classic films, said she thinks certain changes at the theater have been particularly successful.

“I definitely think the free aspect makes a difference,” she said.

Though the theater now offers tickets to students at no cost, Damazo said, the directors didn’t change the Bijou’s budget, they simply restructured it. By not charging admission, rental rates for films have reduced significantly, he said, because they don’t have to pay as high a royalty fee.

The Office of Student Life has also played a major role in aiding the Bijou. In addition to providing guidance, the office reduced the Bijou’s room-rental rate in a pilot agreement including the free-ticket initiative.

Office of Student Life Director Bill Nelson credited the Bijou’s recent success to Umsted and Damazo.

“We hope that the Bijou will continue to enjoy a tremendous increase in attendance,” Nelson said. “The evidence speaks for itself.”

The Bijou has also received support from IMU Marketing & Design, which helped the theater expand its advertising campaign and strategy. A new website will be up before spring break as well, Umsted said.

The new advertising developments have added to the success of the theater’s late-night programming, another new initiative this year. Starting last semester, the Bijou began showing classic films at 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, in addition to independent and art-house films throughout the week.

While the Bijou is not showing current blockbusters, it is showing older classic films — such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off —which may be more familiar to students. Umsted said he believes this has encouraged more students to visit the Bijou.

“We aren’t changing our philosophy,” he said. “Our movies haven’t changed — just how we’ve gone about getting people to see them.”

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