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A place for culture

Art film is about to escape from LA.

Hollywood hyperbole aside, the arrival of Indiana University's brand-new IU Cinema doesn't mean that major metropolises such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City will lose their grip on movies outside the mainstream.

But, says IU Cinema Director Jon Vickers, the cinema's January opening at IU does signal a noteworthy regional shift in public access to art films. That shift promises to have a significant impact — both educationally and culturally — on Bloomington and surrounding communities, as well as on visitors from neighboring areas seeking film fare not commonly found in commercial movie theaters.

University Cinema

The new IU Cinema, shown here from outside on the Arts Plaza, lends additional prestige to the university's reputation as a place for the arts.

Print-Quality Photo

Vickers, who has successfully managed two other Midwestern cinemas, including the University of Notre Dame's Browning Cinema, believes that a locating the cinema in Bloomington, Ind., will offer the area a prime venue for the intelligent, thoughtful and character-driven films that frequently comprise the art cinema genre.

"You can feel the enthusiasm — both here at the university and within the surrounding community — for this type of cinema," Vickers said. "Quite often, these films represent stories of people that most Americans don't get to see at the major megaplexes or on mainstream TV.

"A lot of the films we will show will require patience," he said. "In fact, they'll be very unlike what is driving Hollywood these days. They'll force audiences to slow down and watch as these stories unfold at a human pace."

Among the films that the IU Cinema plans to showcase are documentaries about issues underrepresented in popular media, as well as international films that wouldn't otherwise be readily accessible to Midwestern moviegoers.

"International cinema, in particular, offers a powerful way of introducing us to other cultures that, in other kinds of media, might only be portrayed at a very surface level. I think this kind of exposure is very important," Vickers said.

When it opens early next year, the IU Cinema, one of only about 10 THX-certified facilities on a college campus anywhere in the U.S., will showcase modern, traditional and silent films, as well as film festivals, premieres, retrospectives, traveling exhibits and guest lectures.

Additionally, it will have access to an abundance of cinematic texts and film collections archived at the university — materials that, in the past, have seen limited exposure, mostly just to scholars and researchers. Because it can accommodate such a wide range of activities, the cinema has the potential to become a top-tier contemporary of some of the nation's most acclaimed theaters, including the American Film Institute Silver Theater, Billy Wilder Theater, Cary Grant Theatre, Gene Siskel Film Center and Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Despite its many assets, a university cinema, especially one located in heart of small-town America, faces challenges with regard to cultivating an audience, ensuring audience members have a positive movie-going experience and convincing them to trust its judgment in programming films that they likely will know little about. Art films, especially of the international variety, typically aren't accompanied by much fanfare, and they almost certainly aren't backed by a major studio marketing effort.

"Many films we show will be unknown to about 90 percent of America," Vickers said.

Because the IU Cinema may not have the resources to go toe-to-toe with the latest Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster, it will have to rely on other traits to attract audience attention, say supporters of the new project.

"The key is making people aware of the diverse range of movies to be screened and making sure that their first experience of the cinema is memorable, even great, regardless of what film is playing," said Professor Gregory Waller, chair of IU's Department of Communications and Culture.

Waller, who has studied and written extensively about the history of film exhibition and small-town theaters, believes the cinema will need to develop several different audiences in connection with the various types of films it will showcase, including classic retrospectives, silent films featuring live accompaniment, international films for children, new international art films, more offbeat and edgy fare and familiar titles that have been newly restored.

Generating awareness and building an audience will take time, energy, ingenuity and a little help from local media, say both Waller and Vickers, but the IU Cinema has a couple of major advantages as it attempts to become a destination of choice for the best in art film.

The IU Cinema immediately becomes part of an artistic tradition at IU that includes the world renowned Jacobs School of Music (whose residents will accompany some of the silent film showings with live music), as well as the IU Art Museum, IU Auditorium and Lilly Library, among other acclaimed cultural centers on campus. And it steps into an already historic venue: IU's University Theatre, completed in 1941 and set in the artistic heart of campus.

"The real advantage of this cinema is that it isn't an old house sorely in need of a makeover and updated equipment and comfortable seats," Waller said. "It will have these things from the outset, and it will be housed in a great older building in the middle of a beautiful, accessible campus. Compared to multiplexes, the IU Cinema won't be tied to standard first-run releases and will be able to offer a vastly more interesting and appealing slate of films. In fact, there won't be but a handful of theaters comparable to the IU Cinema anywhere in the country."

A place for film

The majestic building that once housed the University Theatre will reopen in January 2011 as the new Indiana University Cinema, a world-class space for the scholarly study of film and the highest standards of exhibition of film in its traditional and modern forms.

The recently updated space seamlessly blends the building's classic 1930s architecture with modern lines, featuring several panels of the historic Indiana Murals painted by Thomas Hart Benton for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. One of just 10 THX-certified university cinemas across the country, IU Cinema offers the highest quality motion picture experience available, with the best in 16mm and 35mm film projectors, as well as 2K and 4K digital cinema equipment, all of which were expertly installed by Sony.

IU Cinema will host film premieres and rare archival screenings, film festivals, conferences, filmmaker retrospectives and silent films accompanied by live music. Space will also be available for lectures, visiting film scholars and screening of materials from the IU Archives, including the Black Film Center Archive, the David Bradley Collection and the Peter Bogdanovich Collection.

The IU Cinema will strive to become one of the best public screening rooms in the country — eventually, with a film program to match — offering patrons an unforgettable, unparalleled service experience. Along with outstanding programming and exhibitions, the IU Cinema will develop touring film programs, commission new silent film scores, initiate restorations and partner with established cinemas across the U.S. to build exceptional intercollegiate programs.

For more information about IU Cinema, see