FilmScene to host outdoor cinema series in Chauncey Swan Park

FilmScene is hosting a series of free films beginning on April 21 on their new outdoor cinema in Chauncey Swan Park called FilmScene in the Park.


Hannah Kinson

Spray painted stars are seen at the Chauncey Swan Park on Sunday, April 18, 2021.

Drew Sullivan, News Reporter

Multi-colored flowers spray painted on the grass at Chauncey Swan Park mark the location of FilmScene in the Park, a partnership between FilmScene and Iowa City Parks and Recreation which will show films of all genres and diverse backgrounds to appeal to the Iowa City community.

FilmScene Programming Director Rebecca Fons said the theater has been looking to have an outdoor operation since the beginning.

“When FilmScene began its plans for expansion into the Chauncey building, an outdoor cinema was always part of those plans,” Fons said. “The early renderings showed an image of people sitting in the park, watching a movie outside at night, and that’s really kind of what it will look like. I think people who are familiar with that rendering will probably be surprised at how we nailed it.”

FilmScene in the Park will be in Chauncey Swan Park, free and open to the public. FilmScene began as a small theater with a single indoor screen in the Pedestrian Mall before it expanded to three indoor screens in the Chauncey building in September 2019.

“What’s amazing about the space is that it’s a part of the city. It’s not our park, it’s a park for the city and the residents of the community,” Fons said. “During the day, you may see people sitting and eating lunch and reading a book in the park and then at night, there will be a whole host of events held by FilmScene and also other partners and other community organizations.”

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FilmScene in the Park will show mainstream films as well as international, independent, and local films.

Andrew Sherburne, executive director and co-founder of FilmScene, said the series is dedicated to presenting a diverse set of voices through film.

“We are dedicated to making sure that the voices and storytelling that is represented both on-screen and behind the camera is one that comes from diverse perspectives,” Sherburne said. “We’ve got a number of female filmmakers and filmmakers of color represented.”

The film series debuts on April 21 with Minari, an award-winning independent film about a Korean family starting a farm in the U.S.

Sherburne said showing films that are not mainstream is important for FilmScene’s audience.

“We hope that audiences will see themselves represented on screen and that we will draw a diverse selection of people from the community to the park,” Sherburne said.

The Bijou Film Board, a nonprofit organization led by University of Iowa students, has partnered with FilmScene to assist with the programming of the downtown cinema.

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Lee Sailor, chair of the Bijou New Horizons Committee, said COVID-19 has made it difficult to operate in-person movie theaters.

“It’s tricky to run an organization that normally works out of a movie theater at a time when movie theaters are all closed,” Sailor said. “We were particularly lucky with our association with FilmScene because we were able to continue programming films over the pandemic.”

During the pandemic, Sailor said Bijou has streamed free movies online for UI students. Although Bijou is operating with a reduced schedule, Sailor said Bijou is grateful to still be operating.

FilmScene in the Park will adhere to COVID-19 safety measures. Floral shapes have been drawn on the grass to encourage social distancing, and the city’s mask mandate will be enforced.

Sailor said the best way to support Bijou and FilmScene is to donate and show up for their events.

“I’d say just showing up is very helpful, and if they appreciate what’s going on, either making a donation or getting a concession can be helpful,” Sailor said. “It is free for anyone who shows up in the park, but if someone appreciates it and can afford it, that support is always helpful.”