To many Iowans, fall is movie season. From Halloween slashers to the Oscar contenders released just before the holidays, a dark movie theater offers respite from the oncoming cold and a momentary trip to another (perhaps warmer) world.
Given 2020’s constant apocalyptic newsfeed and a life-or-death election on the near horizon, there has never been a time where immersing oneself in a cinematic adventure could be more therapeutic.
Thankfully, Iowa CIty’s independent movie theater, FilmScene, is launching a new, better program to experience the movies in your own home while supporting the local arts organization.
In collaboration with Nashville, Tennessee-based ticketing company Agile Ticketing Solutions, FilmScene will be offering curated titles on their website that can be streamed on a computer or smart TV through the ticketing platform’s new app AgileLINK Cinema. When customers purchase a ticket at FilmScene’s virtual box office, they will be given an access code that they then simply enter on the app to access the title.
It’s a welcome opportunity for Iowa’s film-loving community to support one of the few independent theaters in our state. Since the pandemic rendered public gatherings impossible, FilmScene has been cutting costs and trying to come up with creative ways to stay engaged in the community.
FilmScene’s co-founder and executive director Andrew Sherburne answered some questions from Little Village via email about these creative adaptations and the future of the theater.
What do you consider to be FilmScene’s role in the community?
We’re a place for community and curiosity, and we do that through the art of film.
In what ways has the pandemic impacted operations at FilmScene and that relationship with the community?
FilmScene is designed for bringing people together for a communal experience. We want to cultivate a place that feels like home. That’s not possible right now. We like seeing our regular patrons and talking with them about movies in the lobby. It’s what keeps us going and keeps our moviegoers coming back. We miss those people dearly and can’t wait to host them again. Of course, it also means our primary revenue sources, ticket sales and concessions, have been reduced drastically, so it’s been a huge financial challenge.
What interesting or creative changes have you made to the FilmScene business model since the pandemic hit?
FilmScene hasn’t had work for hourly staff, but we’ve kept our salaried staff on board on reduced hours to find creative ways to connect with our patrons and create new revenue streams. We did a free movie series on the Northside, because we wanted a positive point of connection with our community. We have Friday night Kernels for Kindness, which is our curbside concessions program that allows patrons to load up on FilmScene snacks for the weekend—and we donate $5 from every bundle to local nonprofits. We have Movie Party private [theater] rentals that allow patrons to choose the movie and the guest list and we take care of the rest.
What about the new streaming platform?
We just launched an improved Virtual Screening Room which allows patrons to watch films curated by FilmScene from their home. We’ve been offering virtual titles since the pandemic began, but this new platform integrates with our ticketing service, allowing for member discounts and free films as well as a much better viewing experience, with downloadable apps for watching directly on your television.
What is the plan for the future of FilmScene for the duration of the pandemic and beyond?
FilmScene is doing everything we can to weather this storm and emerge on the other side. We’ll continue our Movie Parties, Virtual Screening Room and Kernels for Kindness programs and keep our costs low. We’re also in the closing act of our ambitious capital campaign with the Englert Theatre, with a vision of building the greatest small city for the arts. That means a commitment to the facilities and the programmatic initiatives that will transform our community through the arts.
This year has not only been a challenge to business as usual but to the inadequacy of antiquated models — we feel empowered to enter the next era with a rejuvenated effort, using the arts to cultivate a more just society.
How can people help and support FilmScene?
Engage with us in whichever way works. Buy popcorn, watch a movie or make a commitment to our future by donating to our capital campaign at www.strengthengrowevolve.org.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the location of FilmScene collaborator Agile and to correct Sherburne’s title, which recently dropped the “interim.”