Going out to see a movie could take on a whole new meaning for Philadelphians this summer.
The historic Roxy Theater, located at 2023 Sansom St., is being completely renovated by the Philadelphia Film Society funded through a Kickstarter campaign.
Andrew Greenblatt, executive director at the Philadelphia Film Society, anticipates hard work ahead for the restoration process, but he said he is excited for the end product in the near future for the last theater in Rittenhouse Square.
“When we saw the opportunity to improve a theater, we wanted to do that,” Greenblatt said. “We wanted to show true independent films and documentaries. These are films that don’t have the opportunity to be seen outside of Philadelphia.”
Originally opened in 1975, and formerly owned by Max Raab, producer of “A Clockwork Orange,” the theater is undergoing some much needed restoration with the help of more than 430 backers on the organization’s Kickstarter page, as of press time.
The Roxy officially shut its doors down last September, but the Philadelphia Film Society saw its potential.
Greenblatt speculates The Roxy hasn’t seen any remodeling or construction for nearly 20 years.
“You could see that the seats were ancient, and the sound and projection was unbelievably old,” he said.
What the Philadelphia Film Society is looking to do is reopen The Roxy as a first-run independent theater, which would provide the types of films that would otherwise not see a theater screen outside of Sundance, year round.
The funding launched on March 1 and will go on until the end of the month. The Philadelphia Film Society has already reached its goal of $40,000.
“The rewarding part has been seeing the amount of supporters we have. You go into a Kickstarter, and you put a number like $40,000, and you don’t know what you’ll get. To get $10,000 in our first couple of days let us breathe a sigh of relief,” he said.
The money raised will only cover a small portion of the amount it will take to restore the Roxy completely, which Greenblatt estimates to be about $600,000.
The Kickstarter campaign will, however, help fund many of the cosmetic and necessary renovations such as flooring, digital projector screens and sound systems, said Greenblatt. The majority of the money will go toward installing new seating in both the theaters.
“First and foremost, everyone at this point understands the need for digital conversion,” Greenblatt said. “We need DCP ability. Studios are just not making 35mm anymore.”
Because the traditional 35mm film is no longer commonly produced, Greenblatt said the restoration will have to go with a “convert or die” mentality.
There are many incentives for pledgers who show their support. They can pledge as much or as little as they desire, but the higher the donation, the higher the reward.
Donating $10 will give the pledger a button and $25 will yield a T-shirt. A $50 donation earns a supporter two tickets to any screening and a T-shirt, and the incentives get better from there. Those who give $1,000 are able to name a seat in the theater with a custom-engraved brass plaque.
So far, the majority of backers are opting to donate $25.
Greenblatt said the process overall is very exciting.
“A lot of people are chipping in and wanting to see this thing happen, and we want this to be the hub of the Philadelphia film community,” he said.
The Philadelphia Film Society will also get a de facto home base when The Roxy is finished.
There are two screens in the theater that currently seat about 140 people combined, but that number will likely decrease to ensure better viewing angles for all seats, said Greenblatt.
“It all comes down to the theater-going experience,” he said. “And we hope to make it the best film-going experience.”
Greenblatt said there are currently 14 movie theaters in Center City and about 40 in Philadelphia, with most of them playing bigger-budget studio productions. In cities like Chicago or New York, you can see a number of theaters within a few blocks of each other, he said.
The majority of the former theaters that were the size of The Roxy were converted into retail stores or other commercial etablishments, he said.
However, once opened, this will be an affordable event any Philadelphian will be able to attend. Ticket prices and concessions will be about the same as standard movie theater prices.
In addition, the Philadelphia Film Society hopes to hold film discussions with filmmakers, film festivals and other film-related events at The Roxy. That being said, it will also participate in the annual Philadelphia Film Festival, held each fall, Greenblatt said.
“The primary and initial focus is the theater itself, because, to me, it’s the most important,” Greenblatt said. “People will be in the lobby for 10 minutes, but they’ll be watching the movie in the theater for 90 minutes.”
After the theaters are completed, the society is looking to renovate the lobby, lounge, bathrooms and entrance.
Greenblatt said he would like to see it reach the goal of $40,000 but would, of course, love to raise even more.
Over the next couple of days, Greenblatt said the Philadelphia Film Society is planning to add additional incentives to keep backers pledging, but they have yet to be announced.
Patricia Madej can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.