A transport to culture: Film Scene celebrates its five-year anniversary

The downtown art house will celebrate five years of operation this November.

Philip Runia, Arts Reporter

In Iowa City amid a wave of representation of diverse artists, one of the most progressive generations in U.S. history, millennials, opens itself to new experiences, education, and challenges, often through entertainment.

As a classically popular mode of enlightenment for people of all ages, film provides escape and opportunity for introspection for viewers. Moviegoers in Iowa City, largely UI students, can find that traditional theaters can be expensive and often do not have niche, independent, or foreign films. However, amid the busy Pedestrian Mall, there is a haven for art, culture, and film. The 5-year-old art house FilmScene caters to the niche in cinematic art.

Founded in 2011 as a nonprofit organization by Andy Brodie and Andrew Sherburne, FilmScene opened Iowa City up to local engagement and national recognition in regard to film. With streaming services on the rise, the silver screen has become less of a priority for Americans, especially when it comes to Oscar contenders and indie darlings that never seem to make appearances at the average cinema. FilmScene fosters these features and at competitive prices.

“Our mission is to challenge audiences,” Sherburne said. “Art comes first. That’s what our client base wants: film and art that engages them.”

Five years after the opening of the theater in 2013, FilmScene will commemorate years of knowledge, enlightenment, and community.

A theme of fives will begin Thanksgiving weekend, marking the opening of FilmScene five years ago. For five weeks, the cinema will play five patron-chosen films, at 5 p.m., for $5. There will be decorations and a sculpture of gratitude for FilmScene donors.

Other promotional events are under wraps but will be revealed when the nonprofit organization opens its additional location on Gilbert Street. The new location will feature three screens in addition to the two on the Ped Mall. This will more than double its capacity, although its audience is quite sizable.

FilmScene unveiled its second screen in 2016, resulting in a 50 percent increase in attendance, said FilmScene director Joe Tiefenthaler.

“The response was incredible when the doors opened [in 2013],” he said. “At the start, we knew we needed a second screen.”

The second screen allows the cinema to show upwards of 300 films per year. The movies range broadly in content from foreign to American independents, but they are all selected from notable sources. Rebecca Fons, FilmScene’s programming director, includes exhibitions from Toronto, Sundance, and other film festivals to see what could potentially be shown. Looking ahead and at retrospective successes, she considers what will do well at FilmScene.

“We have a standard of quality we’d like to protect,” Fons said. “We want to be the film house that shows things you can’t see anywhere else. Some directors and filmmakers don’t get shown elsewhere in the Midwest at all.”

A great portion of the films included in the conversation at FilmScene concern contemporary issues facing all demographics in order to have a thought-provoking discussion centered on the film. FilmScene accepts partnership requests to ensure the exhibition of films that will open audience minds.

“We ensure that we take opportunities to engage different parts of the community, like assisted living, Pride groups, and the Women’s March,” Tiefenthaler said. “We’re initiative-based. We don’t have to just worry about selling tickets.”

An essential demographic and partnership for Film Scene is the UI Bijou Film Board. Bijou was established in 1972 and has enticed students into the art of film since. Its programs span from international film to recent releases but are always either discounted or free for students at FilmScene. For the directors of Film Scene, this partnership is invaluable; Bijou is always included in the conversation.

As former executive director of Bijou, Michael Davis served the cinematic community from October 2015 to August 2017, seeing the first expansion of FilmScene’s second screen and its effect upon UI students. Davis described FilmScene as a gem, a cultural landmark that enhances undergrad understanding of cinema and the world. Advantages to Bijou working with FilmScene include student collaboration with an arts nonprofit to gain programming and marketing skills, and the opportunity to enact programming that aligns with their interests.

“As someone who’s lived here for over a decade, I see the city as before FilmScene and after FilmScene,” Davis said. “It adds cultural capital to an artistic downtown Iowa City.”

Davis’ and Bijou’s vision as a whole is to continue collaborating with FilmScene and perhaps expand its programming to hold student film festivals. This vision will come to fruition with the inaugural student film festival, Art Amplified, organized by the Bijou Open Screen Committee, FilmScene, student organization Black Art, Real Stories, and UI fraternity Pi Alpha Phi — Pi Chapter.

This event will serve as an opportunity for underrepresented communities to showcase their talents in filmmaking, as well as visual and performance art. The event will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday at FilmScene.