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Film Forum reopens in Greenwich Village after a $5M makeover including a new theater

Shuttered since the spring, the art house cinema now boasts four screening rooms.

Film Forum reopens Wednesday, Aug. 1, after a

Film Forum reopens Wednesday, Aug. 1, after a months-long expansion at its West Houston Street location. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Located at the heart of one of the city’s most rapidly transforming areas, Film Forum has endured at its West Houston Street location since 1990 even as Greenwich Village staples have closed all around it.

Still, the nonprofit’s management felt the time was right for a face-lift, and the new and improved theater reopens to the public on Wednesday after being remodeled since the spring.

The $5 million expansion includes a new 99-seat, 1,300-square-foot screening room to join the three existing theaters. The new space will allow Film Forum, which first opened in 1970, to expand its offerings of small, independent first-run films and repertory programs ranging from classics to the obscure.

“None of these [movies] bring in dollar signs, but they are interesting films that deserve a run,” said film critic Farran Smith Nehme, who is a Film Forum member.

Architects and designers also updated the overall décor, including renovating the lobby, to bring the theater up to the aesthetic standards that management feels New York movie audiences expect.

“The concept is that we want to give people a cinematic experience the minute they come inside,” said Karen Cooper, who has been the Film Forum’s director since 1972 when it was in the Upper West Side.

The theater’s original three screening rooms received a floor to ceiling renovation, with newly painted walls, new carpets and lighting. All of the theater’s 469 seats were made in Spain using high-end materials and they are arranged to offer more leg room.

“We wanted to make the viewing experience not only intellectually appealing but also comfortable,” Cooper said, a necessity given the serious competition posed by streaming.

The lobby, where the theater will continue to serve popcorn, coffee and other treats, also got a makeover. A 10-foot-by-5-foot digital screen hangs above the entrance to the screening rooms and will play short and silent films in between advertisements.

Film Forum returns with a slate of movies that represents its dual programming mission: new releases include “Nico, 1988,” about the singer associated with the Velvet Underground and the Iranian film “No Date, No Signature.” The classics slate is comprised of a complete retrospective of the French filmmaker Jacques Becker and the return of “The Atomic Cafe,” a 1982 documentary constructed entirely of documentary footage from the nuclear age.

Nehme said the theater’s nonprofit status allows it to make relatively noncommercial programming decisions and she hailed the programming team’s highly-selective process.

“They are great movies that are preserved and need to be seen on that screen,” she said of the typical Film Forum showings. “They have a good bead on how to draw people in.”

Bob Gormley, the district manager of Manhattan Community Board 2, which includes the Village, pointed to supporters as being key to the continued viability of Film Forum. These have included big-name backers such as Matthew Broderick and philanthropic organizations including the Thompson Family Foundation.

“The Film Forum has been a gem for decades. We have a wealth of riches in our community, and everyone wants to support them,” Gormley said.

Cooper added that the building’s owner GFP Real Estate has extended the Film Forum’s lease to 2035, a move that puts it at odds with the way other landlords citywide have treated artistic institutions.

“We are fortunate that we have a landlord who sees that New York is great because of the arts and not because of banks,” she said.

Gormley observed that the new era for the Film Forum is the latest chapter in an ongoing revamp of the Village’s remaining independent film houses. Last year, the Quad opened its completely renovated space with new screens, and the IFC Center owners have submitted paperwork to the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in June for approval to create an additional five screens.

“I’d personally like to see more of them open, but I don’t know what challenges they’d face,” Gormley said. “It’ll be interesting, because we know there is certainly demand for them in Manhattan.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story should have noted Bob Gormley of Community Board 2 did not specifically address Matthew Broderick or the Thompson Family Foundation.

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