IMU to lose independent cinema


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While a more than 40-year-old independent and student-run cinema at the University of Iowa is on the up and out, Iowa City’s art-house movie experience is not expected to go dark any time soon.

The Bijou, established at the UI in 1972, will shutter its first-floor location in the IMU at the end of the summer academic session before relocating just a few blocks east to a new downtown Iowa City venue.

The relocation was announced in a Monday joint press release by the Bijou Film Board, the UI, and local nonprofit film advocacy group FilmScene.

The board and its student members will work with FilmScene’s professional staff and board of directors on the operation of its new Scene 1 cinema and cafĂ© concept, pending the September opening inside the Packing & Provision Co. Building, 118 E. College St.

The new facility is a part of a more than $1.6 million in historic restorations to the two-story building under the direction of Moen Group developer Marc Moen.

The move will signal the first-ever move for the Bijou the beyond the confines of UI-owned building.

“This partnership ensures that the Bijou’s longstanding tradition of showcasing the best in independent and foreign cinema will continue to thrive,” Bijou Executive Director Jesse Kreitzer said in the release.

Downtown Iowa City has been without true cinematic offerings since the 2007 closure of Old Capitol Town Center’s Campus 3 cinema.

According to the release, the Bijou Film Board will continue to receive funding from the University of Iowa Student Government and the Executive Council of Graduate & Professional Students.

Funding will support stipends and wages for student positions, campus marketing and outreach, as well as programming and collaboration with other UI groups.

In a March 11 letter, the Joint Finance Committee of UISG and Executive Council recommended that $56,160 of total fiscal 2014’s $467,251 budget be allocated to Bijou.

For UISG President Katharine Valde, the new venue will not only designate a true movie-going experience, it will help anchor continued diversification efforts of downtown.

Bijou Programming Director Joshua Yates said discussions with FilmScene have been ongoing for several months and squashed any notions that the group had any mistreatment by IMU staff.

“There’s no qualms with the IMU; we just saw it as an opportunity to move forward with the scope of the Bijou in its already rich history,” he said. “To join the effort rather than work against it, I think we’re better off.”

Yates said the ultimate goal is to enhance the cultural vitality of downtown, while simultaneously promoting film as an art form.

Because the new venue will show first-run films in a more centralized location for the entire community to enjoy, he said, he expects sold-out showings often.

UI Dean of Students David Grady said the current Bijou room will continue to serve as a space for a variety of student organizations, university departments, and community group events. The UI Campus Activities Board will backfill the evening times in the space by screening movies in addition to those offered currently in 348 IMU.

Calling the new venture a “town-gown” partnership, FilmScene cofounder Andy Brodie said UI students will receive discounted admission and may be eligible for a discounted annual membership with perks including discounted popcorn and soda.

Although details on the membership program and ticket pricing will be announced later this summer, Brodie said, the cost to see a movie will be cheaper than going to a mainstream multiplex.

Current Bijou prices stand at $3 for students with valid IDs and $7 for the general public.

Brodie, a UI alumnus, served as the co-director of the Bijou and was instrumental in the name changing from the Terrace Room to the Bijou Room in 2007.

Scene 1 will operate seven days a week on a 365-day cycle, with more than 20 screenings expected per week with matinee, night and late night screenings.

The Scene 1 cinema is the first leg in a long-term plan to bring film educational offerings and screenings to the downtown area.

FilmScene is to occupy two additional theaters inside the Moen Group’s $53 million, 20-story the Chauncey development slated for construction at the corner of College and Gilbert Streets.

If construction were to begin this year, the high-rise could be completed by 2016.

“This collaboration between FilmScene and the Bijou represents an exciting new chapter in the history of the Bijou, and it will provide students with tremendous new opportunities to pursue their passions and learn important skills that they will take with them into the workforce, whether they work in film or another industry,” said Tom Rocklin, the UI vice president for Student Life.

Julia Haslett, a member of UI’s cinema faculty and acting head of film/video production, said in the release the new venture will create new cinematic avenues.

“It will open up important new opportunities for programming student work, help attract world-renowned visiting artists, and connect the UI’s Cinema and Comparative Literature Department to the Iowa City community,” she said.

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