FilmScene organizers are ‘kids in the candy store’ ahead of The Chauncey’s debut

The FilmScene lobby in the new Chauncey Building on Sept. 14, a week ahead of its grand opening. — courtesy of Andrew Sherburne

Update: All Friday, Sept. 20, showings for ‘Downton Abbey’ at The Chauncey have sold out.

On Sept. 20-22, Iowa City residents will have the opportunity to attend the grand opening weekend of FilmScene’s new location in the recently raised Chauncey building. The Chauncey is FilmScene’s second space, located off of Gilbert Street in downtown Iowa City; FilmScene will keep their original Ped Mall cinema open as well. The Chauncey will feature three theater spaces, as well as a bowling alley, a hotel and apartments.

“We’ll have the most state-of-the-art digital projection systems, including 4K projection and a really revolutionary sound system designed by Boston Light & Sound, plus we’ll also have refurbished, vintage 35 mm and 16 mm film projectors for screening archival film presentations,” said Ross Meyer, FilmScene’s head projectionist and facilities manager. “I’m quite confident that our partners from Boston are setting us up to have the best motion picture presentation in the entire state of Iowa.”

Boston Light & Sound, widely regarded as the best in the business, has worked with the band REM as well as on Christopher Nolan’s 70 mm premiere of Dunkirk (2017).

“Creating a dedicated home for film in the heart of Iowa City was no more than an idea when FilmScene began eight years ago,” mused Associate Director Andrew Sherburne. “To get from there to where we are now has taken incredible work from our dedicated staff and board, a visionary design team, the support of thousands of donors and members and the regular attendance of so many more moviegoers.”

Kicking off opening weekend will be a reception alongside showings of Michael Engler’s highly anticipated Downton Abbey (2019) on Friday night, followed by a Saturday morning open house at the Chauncey at 10 a.m., including many local arts organizations, and multiple screenings of crowd favorites like Field of Dreams (1989) and the beloved cult classic The Blob (1958) beginning Saturday afternoon. FilmScene’s Programming Director Rebecca Fons has been busy filling the schedule (and new theater spaces) for the fall with an eclectic, exciting lineup.

“Our original location in the Ped Mall, which will continue to be a vibrant space for cinema, has served us incredibly well for nearly six years, but with only two screens we’ve absolutely have had to pass on certain titles or events because we just didn’t have the screen space,” Fons said. “Now, we feel like kids in the candy store — enthusiastically (though cautiously, as we will need some time to find our sea legs) penciling in some of the most anticipated titles for the fall/winter season and confirming a number of new partnerships and planning some really incredible events.”

With Oscar season quickly approaching, it will benefit FilmScene and its patrons to have multiple theater screens in order to ensure space for both the quality, independent cinema Iowa City denizens are used to, as well as the heavyweight Academy Award contenders.

Construction continues on FilmScene’s new theaters in the Chauncey. Aug. 26, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Fons offers a sneak peak of the weekend following the Chauncey’s opening to provide patrons with just a taste of what to expect with the two locations, including a free screening of El Norte, co-presented by the University of Iowa’s Center for Human Rights; Bijou Film Board’s screening of the controversial documentary Caniba; a free screening of My Life with Rosie (with a special appearance by Rosa Park’s cousin); and an eight-hour marathon of Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace, in partnership with the Iowa City Book Festival.

“It’s been a true community effort,” Sherburne said, remarking on the many festivities, partnerships and special events, “and looking at this stunning building as it’s just weeks away from opening to the public is truly a dream come true.”

The Bijou Film Board, a student-run University of Iowa organization that programs all their films at FilmScene, is also integral to the innovative programming initiatives at the Chauncey. Established in 1972, the Bijou traditionally shows American independent, foreign and classic cinema. Their meetings will now be held at the Chauncey, allowing them to work seamlessly with FilmScene moving forward, and providing experience for college students hoping to work in arts nonprofits in the future.

Molly Bagnall is Bijou’s executive director for the 2019-2020 academic year, after having served for the past three years on the board’s After Hours Committee. “Bijou is excited for the move into the Chauncey, as it is an opportunity to expand our visibility and our audience,” she said.

Meyer has been an advocate and champion of Bijou since his own time at the UI. “I was the Bijou director when I was in school,” he said. “In fact, I probably would have quit school if I didn’t have the Bijou to keep me involved and excited about university life. Nothing could make me happier than being able to help and mentor a new generation of Bijou students in their journeys through film exhibition.”

A worker installs theater seats in one of FilmScene’s new Chauncey theaters. Aug. 26, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The Chauncey promises to be a draw for students, especially the Bijou programming, which is free for UI students ($6.50 for the general public).

“The Chauncey building is opening up many new possibilities for events Bijou can do as well,” Bagnall said. “This year Bijou is switching to monthly themed programming, allowing Bijou to put films in conversation with one another in a thoughtful way.”

As for special event programming for Bijou, Bagnall said, “In October, we will be presenting, in collaboration with FilmScene, Punk the Capital, a documentary by James June Schneider, Paul Bishow and Sam Lavine about the hardcore band Minor Threat and the D.C. punk scene. The event welcomes the filmmakers to FilmScene to discuss their film and will be followed by a punk music show at Gabe’s.”

FilmScene organizers have found truth to the cinematic cliché “if you build it, they” (technically, “he”) “will come,” with community members coming through on everything from loyally attending Late Shift at the Grindhouse films on Wednesday nights to volunteering to collect tickets before shows.

FilmScene’s executive director Joe Tiefenthaler said he has no doubt movie lovers will flock to the Chauncey as well.

“What started with one screen and one full-time employee will soon be five screens (plus one rooftop and one park lawn!) and 10 full-time staffers — hosting and caretaking what is already a wonderfully manic range of community collaborations, educational efforts and special events,” Tiefenthaler said, “all things that have made FilmScene more than a cinema — all thanks to such incredible support from our community.”

Hannah Bonner is a Ph.D. candidate in film studies in the Department of Cinematic Arts at the University of Iowa. Her essays have appeared in Den of Geek, Bustle, VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, and The Little Patuxent Review. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 271.

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