FilmScene project works toward funding permanent downtown cinema


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Laughter filled the chilly air in City Park this past weekend as more than 100 Iowa City residents sat under the stars for an outdoor showing of the movie Office Space.

Moviegoers had the chance to smash a printer — like in the movie — and eat free popcorn on Sept. 21, the second in the StarLite series, a chain of Friday night outdoor films. Around 225 people watched Blues Brothers on Sept. 14 and the next movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is scheduled for Oct. 12.

Officials with the nonprofit FilmScene are behind the activities, which help raise funds and awareness to stabilize the group’s temporary cinema downtown.

FilmScene co-founder Andrew Sherburne said efforts to bring in money for the organization’s temporary location on the Pedestrian Mall are in the beginning planning stages.

“I think [a theater is] something Iowa City has been lacking for a while,” he said. “It’s a shame there’s no existing full-time cinema. This is something I think is long overdue. It will bring the 365 days a year to downtown Iowa City.”

The space previously occupied by Vito’s bar, 118 E College St., will serve as a temporary location until FilmScene has the financial abilities to build its own venue.

“It could be a home for FilmScene before we do something even bolder,” said UI Associate Professor Sasha Waters Freyer, a film director and board member on FilmScene. “Ideally we would like something that’s more of a permanent home.”

The Iowa City City Council approved FilmScene’s temporary downtown location on June 19 and the group’s board met on Sept. 22 to discuss plans for the cinema. Sherburne said officials wouldn’t set any concrete goals until they receive hard numbers.

The organization is working with MoenGroup to finalize the space for its cinema.

 “Opening a cinema in that space [downtown] is our goal,” Sherburne said. “It will probably open in either summer or early fall next year. Certainly in 2013.”

Kristi Bontrager, a Riverside Theatre board member, attended both movies and said she “had a great time.”

“I love going to see movies outside, and I’m so glad that FilmScene has brought this to Iowa City,” Bontrager said. “It feels like you’re in an indoor theater, but you can see the stars.”

M.C. Ginsberg, 110 E. Washington St., is a sponsor of the StarLite series and owner Mark Ginsberg expressed his support for the project.

“I wouldn’t back it up with my own dollars if I didn’t think it was a good idea,” said Ginsberg, who added the films cost between $300 and $400 per reel. “The town and gown are going to come together for downtown Iowa City.”

But Ginsberg isn’t alone. Some city officials said they’re enthralled with the idea of a downtown cinema.

“It seems to me that this is the ideal place to have movie theaters,” City Councilor Connie Champion said. “I think that it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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