Downtown independent cinema gets green light

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Downtown Iowa City will soon have an independent cinema showcasing new releases and old favorites on the silver screen.

FilmScene, an independent nonprofit organization in Iowa City, will be temporarily located at 118 E. College St., previously Vito's bar. The Iowa City City Council unanimously approved the proposal Tuesday night.

FilmScene cofounder Andy Brodie said the organization has received a great deal of positive feedback from the public.

"FilmScene is committed to building a first-rate cinema and home for film downtown," he said. "An interim venue is an important and exciting first step."

FilmScene will be a full-time movie theater showing new releases of American independent and foreign films, as well as restored classics when possible.

Marc Moen, the developer renovating the facility, said he is interested in offering space to a cinema because of the city's interest.

"Movie theaters appeal to everyone," he said in an email. "All ages. All backgrounds."

Iowa City residents said a movie theater was at the top of their list for new downtown development, according to a 2007 market niche analysis of downtown. An art-house movie theater was a specific response mentioned as a best opportunity for downtown.

Mayor Matt Hayek said the organization is consistent with the analysis.

Moen said the FilmScene cofounders are knowledgeable about the industry and dedicated to improving downtown.

"It has an impressive board of directors, and I appreciate its vision and commitment to downtown," he said.

Councilor Jim Throgmorton said he is a "big fan" of the organization's mission, but he suggested an end date for the organization's location.

The theater will serve patrons food and drink, including alcoholic beverages. The original agreement did not allow a restaurant or bar, but the council and cofounders agreed that alcohol is an accessory for the business model.

Councilor Connie Champion said she approved of the proposal in the work session.

"I have been to several theaters like it across the country, and you can actually take your drink in and sit on the couch and watch the movie," she said. "It's great."

Brodie said allowing alcoholic beverages will not detract from the purpose of the cinema.

"Nobody is coming to FilmScene for the purpose of drinking," he said. "People attracted to an art-house cinema are not a rowdy crowd."

Brodie said the temporary location will help raise awareness of the organization and offer moviegoers a preview of what the cinema will offer while fundraising for the permanent downtown location.

FilmScene cofounder Andrew Sherburne said there are few existing spaces downtown that would suit FilmScene's long-term needs.

"This interim space would likely operate for a few years and allow us to pursue new construction of a dedicated two-screen cinema," he wrote in an email.

The University of Iowa's Bijou is the only art-house cinema in the city. The FilmScene cofounders indicated they are exploring collaboration options with the cinema.

"We hope to work with them and continue that tradition… While broadening programming options and improving the movie-going experience," Sherburne said.

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