Iowa City filmmakers have plans for a downtown cinema

BY DORA GROTE | OCTOBER 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City may soon have an independent film theater.

According to emails obtained by The Daily Iowan, local filmmakers have been in contact with Tom Rocklin, the University of Iowa vice president for Student Life, in hopes of collaborating with UI's Bijou.

Andy Brodie and Andrew Sherburne, cofounders of FilmScene — a nonprofit organization dedicated to showcasing film as an art form — initially contacted Rocklin in June.

"Andy and I saw a hole in our cultural fabric, and we were tired of waiting for someone else to patch it," said Sherburne. "… In the end, we think that it will give everyone the kind of movie-going experience that we've been missing."

The cost of the cinema, to be named FilmScene, would vary according to the number and size of screens and location, Brodie said.

Brodie said similar theaters — such as the Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Mo. — cost roughly $1 million to build.

Sherburne and Brodie said they are committed to locating the theater in or near downtown — possibly south of Burlington Street

FilmScene would be similar to the UI's Bijou, but it would be open 365 days, seven days a week.

Last year, the Bijou sold approximately 13,000 tickets. In the 2009-10 school year, the theater sold 9,574, said D. Jesse Damazo, the Bijou executive director.

Rocklin said officials are discussing a possible partnership between the Bijou and a downtown cinema, but officials have not reached a definite decision.

Rocklin said FilmScene organizers approached him with the idea, and the collaboration is not related to previous discussions of bringing more non-alcohol alternatives to downtown.

"We have not established any specifics, just that we are open and excited about the possibility of collaborating on a downtown cinema," said Damazo.

Officials iterated they have not yet discussed any specifics regarding the collaboration.

Brodie said the independent film theater would be funded by community support, an upcoming capital campaign, and its own revenue. It would not only be a theater, it would also be a classy café serving nicely crafted beers, wine, and various food.

And the venue would serve as a social place for friends to have fun and would "provide something that is sorely needed downtown" — a moderate level between excessive alcohol consumption and completely dry.

"We want to create a venue for responsible and reasonable alcohol consumption," Brodie said. "There is a middle ground that needs to be covered in Iowa City."

Sherburne said FilmScene would be a place in which movie lovers could enjoy films with friends without traveling hundreds of miles to see "first-run indie films."

"We want people to think about films as a legitimate art form, which they are," Brodie said.

Andre Perry, the executive director of the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., and a member of the FilmScene Board, said it is a huge loss to Iowa City — a cultural landmark —not to have an independent cinema.

Brodie said the new theater may also collaborate with the Englert on events such as film festivals.

Brodie said he, Sherburne, and the FilmScene Board of Directors are in the process of finding a location for the cinema, building relationships with community members, and finding funding for the project.

Plans are moving forward, but Brodie said they want to take their time and ensure the cinema turns out as planned.

"We want it to be top-notch, fun, cool, and a place that people will want to come to," he said.

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