FilmScene, Englert launch $6.5 million capital campaign
Once a week, when the sun goes down, folks trickle into the lobby at FilmScene. Guided by 4 cent black-and-white photocopy posters, they enter for the unknown.
"I kind of like the idea of the blind buy," said Ross Meyer, the head projectionist and facilities manager at FilmScene. "I think I know what I'm getting, but I don't really know what I'm getting. Maybe it will be great. Maybe it won't be great. Hopefully, it will be memorable at least."
Late on Wednesday nights, the screen lights up on a flickering cartoon popcorn bag come to life attempting to entice the audience with a hot dish of butter in tow.
"The show starts in five minutes."
Next is a preview of a schlock horror movie complete with enough red corn syrup to fill The Shining elevator.
"The show starts in three minutes."
Then two brewers from Big Grove appear via web cam. They take a sip a beer and in a flash they're gone.
"The show starts in one minute."
After the exact number of promos it takes to finish a 32 oz beer, The Late Shift at the Grindhouse begins: the weekly event where FilmScene's movie buffs pick out an often little known, sometimes macabre and always beguiling selection from B-movies new and old: slasher films of the 70s and 80s. Universal Studio's monster movies. Godzilla flicks. Kung Fu.
"As video stores have gone away, streaming services have consolidated getting more and more mainstream," Meyer said. "The little corn syrup blood splatter movies are kind of getting kicked out to the side."
On April 17, Late Shift was showing Easter Casket (2013). The Easter-themed horror follows warrior-priest Father Asher on his mission from the Mega Pope to stop the murderous Peter Cottontail, a villainous puppet complete with yellowed teeth, purple satin vest and a chilling laugh.
"I like serious films and we play them here and I watch most of what we play. But I also like trashy movies," Meyers said with a grin. "I don't know if I can put my thumb on why. ... In my mind you can find value in watching Cassavettes until the sun comes up. You'll find value in that regardless. But in my mind, you can also find a lot of value in Easter Casket."
Believe it or not, a cursory search of the internet revealed no other movie theater in Iowa City, Johnson County or the Midwest showing Easter Casket that Wednesday or any other night. Each Wednesday, Meyer and the rest of the Late Shift crew are responsible for an experience that is — without exaggeration — truly unique to Iowa City.
"You know if we have 35 people see this movie, that's 35 people that will be able to say 'Let me tell you about this movie,'" Meyer said. "There is something fun about that."
Strengthen Grow Evolve
A perusal of Little Village's events calendar reveals FilmScene's Late Night at the Grindhouse to be just one of the many nonprofits providing an answer to those in search of something to do.
Saturday afternoon, the Englert Theater filled up as FilmScene joined hands with the Englert to announce an ambitious campaign to raise $6.5 million.
Named Strengthen Grow Evolve, the joint project aims to invest in both organization's spaces. At the Englert Theater's location on W. Washington Street, the money will be used to preserve the theater's existing facilities while investing in lighting, sound and stage production. A few blocks away, the campaign will pay for FilmScene's new three-screen cinema at The Chauncey on Gilbert Street. The plan is to grow and expand mainstays like the Mission Creek Festival and Witching Hour as well as fund the inaugural Refocus Film Festival. The funding will help support new community engagement staffing as well as collaborations with Bijou Film Board, SCOPE Productions and the other University of Iowa organizations.
"All of this is really about building fertile soil in Iowa City," said FilmScene's Executive Director Joe Tiefenthaler. "We all just want to figure out how we can make sure we are laying the groundwork for deeper work on top of everybody's life."
"If we want the best future, it will take a certain amount of partnership and collaboration in the scene, especially in the world of arts and culture," Perry said.
With grants and historic tax credits, Strengthen Grow Evolve sits at 50% of its fundraising goal, according to Andrew Sherburne, associate director of FilmScene. Iowa City Council has already approved $1 million to support the historic preservation of The Englert Theater. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors and the Iowa City Downtown District have also committed to supporting the campaign.
The campaign is in preparation for FilmScene's grand opening at The Chauncy in fall 2019 as well as restoration and modernization efforts at The Englert, where construction will begin this summer and end in early autumn 2020.
Perry and Tiefenthaler emphasized that a merger of the two nonprofits is not planned. The campaign was a chance to collaborate and make use of mutual resources.
"These sorts of collaborations between arts organizations are the future of arts programming," Tiefenthaler said. "We have similar missions and beliefs. This is us thinking about how we can make the work we do better and more impactful in Iowa City."
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Zachary Oren Smith writes about government, growth and development for the Press-Citizen. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7354, and follow him on Twitter @zacharyos.
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