Roxy Theater set to reopen as new home of Philadelphia Film Society

The Roxy Theatre at 2023 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )
The Roxy Theatre at 2023 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )
Posted: October 09, 2012

The Roxy Theater has gone dark. But not for long.

The Rittenhouse Square area twinplex, which closed on Friday - after 15 years under lawyer-turned-movie-house operator Bernard Nearey - has a new tenant waiting in the wings.

The Philadelphia Film Society, the nonprofit group behind the Philadelphia Film Festival, has secured a 16-year lease with the Roxy's landlord, John Ciccone, who owns multiple properties on the block.

The PFS is set to move into the Roxy, at 2023 Sansom Street, on Jan. 1st. Andrew Greenblatt, the Society's executive director, said Tuesday that upgrades will be made - new seating, new screens - and the theater will be equipped with a digital projection system. At the same time, Greenblatt plans to keep one of the Roxy's 35mm projectors to play classic films in the classic format.

Ciccone said he is loaning money to the Society for early improvements to the tattered building, including changes to the fa├žade to signal that something new and exciting is happening at the old standby. The PFS will also launch a capital campaign to pay for improvements.

"I want it to open with the sense that it is being rejuvenated," said Ciccone, who offered the Society a lease at below-market rates.

"For a very, very long time we've wanted a place to call home," Greenblatt said. "A place where we can basically do everything we want to do to fulfill our mission to bring the best in cinema to Philadelphia year-round - to basically extend the film festival from 10 days to 365 days."

The 21st Philadelphia Film Festival begins Oct. 18.

While the Roxy will no longer offer mainstream fare ("we won't be showing Batman, unless we're doing a Tim Burton or Chris Nolan retrospective," Greenblatt said), the PFS will work with a booker to program new arthouse, specialty, and independent American and foreign language films. It also will offer repertory programs, educational series, midnight movies and work by local filmmakers.

Greenblatt doesn't see the new venue as being in competition with Landmark Theatres, the chain that owns the three Center City Ritzes.

"There are thousands of films made every year," he said. "I don't think we'll ever be at a loss for finding films. And there are films that frankly [the Ritz] can't take. Even though Landmark has three theaters, that is still only 12 screens. . .

"Even with the Roxy, that's only 14 screens in Center City - which is not nearly enough for a city our size."

Greenblatt sees the Film Forum in New York and Coolidge Corner in Boston as models for the kind of cine-centric programming he hopes to bring to the Roxy.

"From Day One, it's not going to be the bright new place that we ultimately know it will be," he cautioned. "There will be growing pains. We may not get all the new seats in by January 1st, but there will be new seating. And we may not get new screens in by January 1st, but there will be new screens. It's going to be a phased process, as we raise the money so we can pay for it."

As for the Roxy's ex-impresario, Nearey wishes the new team well, though he warns that it won't be easy.

"In my opinion," he said, "they're pushing a boulder up the hill if they think they're going to do that. But maybe they'll be able to do it."


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies

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