By Barbara Chacour
Film Forum, the three-screen independent movie house at 209 West Houston Street (between Varick Street and 6th Avenue), has announced that it will construct a fourth screen in the adjacent loading dock and renovate the three existing ones. July 4, 2018 is the targeted completion date. Fundraising is underway at the nonprofit and the goal is $6 million; more than half has already been raised. Construction costs are estimated at $5 million plus an additional $1 million to add to the current $4.1 million endowment. Naming rights are also available—bike racks cost $50,000 and a screen costs up to $1 million.
I attended a September 2017 presentation about the construction plans, led by architect Steve Tilly and Film Forum Director Karen Cooper. Tilly designed the West Houston Street location in 1990, as well as the prior site on Watts Street. Film Forum was established in 1970, and, remarkably, Cooper has been its Director since 1972. She says that the Board has been inspired to undertake this project in view of the pending 50th anniversary.
Film Forum is housed in a 22-story commercial building, hence the huge support pillars throughout. Cooper spoke of the good relationship from the outset with the landlord, Newmark Holdings. The lease has been renewed through 2035.
Construction work on the new screen in the adjacent loading dock is expected to start in January. In April, one of the screens will close for renovation and the whole theater will be closed in May and June. Memberships will be frozen until the targeted reopening on July 4th. Asked if such an ambitious schedule is realistic, Cooper replied, “We are fast people. Life is short.”
The renovation is a response to complaints in surveys concerning legroom and site lines. New seats will be wider and higher and more comfortable; there will be more legroom and a few rows of stadium seating in the rear of each theater. (Also, the popcorn machine, which is considered the Rolls Royce of such machines, will be replaced by the same high-priced brand.) Therefore, even after adding the 114-seat Theater 4, the total seat count will be slightly lower. The hope is that box office receipts will increase thanks to greater flexibility in extending the runs of popular films.
Asked about revenue estimates, Cooper replied, “Streaming is the elephant in the room.” However, trends do reverse—as in turntables and LP records, thanks to their sound quality. A theater experience is superior to streaming in terms of quality and as a shared experience.
For more information, visit: filmforum.org/filmforum50.