October 27, 2011 at 12:43 PM

A Star is Reborn

"Movie-going at The Center for Contemporary Arts gets an extreme makeover"

By Casey St. Charnez

Media Rare

Casey St. Charnez has been video editor for Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide since 1986 and buyer for Lisa Harris' Video Library since 1981. He likes Lisa, cats, crosswords, and the Metropolitan Opera, probably in that order.

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Sorry, Keanu Reeves, but when I saw "The Studio" at the Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe for the first time, all I could say was "Whoa...!"

The reimagined space, formerly the Moving Image Lab, is now a big, black Borg-like cube whose possibilities, according to CCA Cinematheque manager Jesse Hockersmith, seem "endless."

Characterizing The Studio as "a calculated risk that paid off," Hockersmith, a New Mexico native with a broadcast journalism background, says this second space gives them "flexibility to program, to rent, to use for meetings, lectures, specialized affairs." Professional lighting for stage pieces is on its way, he adds.

Technically a black-box screening room, the 750-square foot facility boasts a 20-foot ceiling, plus charcoal foam soundproofing on walls painted in light-absorbing deepest purple, like Sherwin-Williams' Black Hole.The 47 upholstered chairs can be moved around for each event's requirements.

And The Studio has a spiffy new 5,000-lumen digital projector.

Moreover, the familiar Cinematheque right across the hall now runs a 6,000-lumen beauty of its own.

Using part of the estimated $275,000 budget that included building The Studio, the 127-seat Cinematheque has also benefited from updating and upscaling. Attractive wooden wainscoting panels the lower half of the walls, while pleated burgundy baffling fabric goes to the ceiling. Same screen, same risers, same projection booth, but it's no longer that 20th-century auditorium with posters thumbtacked to the walls.

That incarnation will be familiar to filmgoers who have watched off-the-wall flicks on the CCA wall since it opened in 1983. These days, according to their Web site statistics, movie ticket sales account for 35,000 of the 50,000 annual visitors.

Hockersmith (who wasn't even born until 1986) says retired CCA founder Robert Gaylor was none too happy with the newly sumptuous yet restrained Cinematheque decor. "He really liked the old theater's gritty, industrial look. That's pure Gaylor."

He cites another reaction, this from Brent Kliewer, onetime owner/operator of the late, lamented Jean Cocteau Theater, later the CCA's film curator for 11 years, and currently running The Screen at Santa Fe University of Art and Design. "He's seen what we've done. He's hard to read sometimes. I think he was pleased to see we were still on our feet and offering some friendly competition to The Screen. I think so, anyway."

Certainly, The Screen accommodates more people at a single showing, with a bigger, nicely-curved wide screen, bolstered by superb audio. But it has only one place to show its movies publicly, while the CCA now has two.

This was the primary motivation that sparked the renovation, to twin the theater in essence, but to make the newbie a smaller, more adaptable venue. The goal was to have movies running in both rooms most afternoons and evenings. And when they're not, well, then...something else.

Private donations, community foundations and arts grants provided funding. At first, explains Hockersmith, the board of directors of the non-profit organization expressed some concern about putting a lot of cash into the film program. "But that was only a very brief time. We had the plan. Then we got the support."

Construction began last January, but the theater was never closed. As Monday is traditionally the slowest box-office day, workers went in after the last movie's end credits late Sunday night, and basically kept hammering until the next film unspooled Tuesday afternoon. That went on for months.

The lobby also begged for big-time revamping. Happily, Ron Jaynes, set fabricator for Stephen Sommers' locally lensed production of Dean Koontz's "Odd Thomas" (2012), donated a handsome birch counter and matching-box-office station, as well as hand-built props used in filming.

The architectural vision came courtesy of production designer/art director Rosario Provenza, whose local credits include "Santa Fe" (1997), "Soundman" (1998), "The Tao of Steve" (2000), and "Employee of the Month" (2006), as well as "The Spirit" (2008) and "Soul Surfer" (2011). His bottom line, says Hockersmith, "was to bring us into the 21st century." After all, the last reboot was back in 1992.

That's also the goal of Provenza's pal, author/filmmaker/IAIA professor Jason Silverman, who has been hunting and gathering movies for the CCA since 2004. He estimates that over these three decades, the theater has shown some 3,000 titles from 60 countries, pushing maybe 100,000 miles of celluloid through the 35mm projectors, with more than 1,000 filmmakers appearing in person, and around 993,000 tickets sold to date. "The million mark is in sight!" Silverman excitedly declares.

On the immediate horizon is a campaign for new seats, spearheaded by CCA Executive Director Craig Anderson. It began at last month's Sweet Salsa fundraiser, and will continue through the end of the year. New seating was not included in the remodeling's estimates, and instead has been handed to the public for support. It's to their benefit: When the fresh chairs come in, they'll be large and plush enough to reduce the capacity from 127 to 115.

Ah, first class at last. Can't wait to sink into one of those moviehouse Barcaloungers. Resistance is futile.

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"Technically a black-box screening room, the 750-square foot facility boasts a 20-foot ceiling, plus charcoal foam soundproofing on walls painted in light-absorbing deepest purple, like Sherwin-Williams' Black Hole."

Photobucket
"The 47 upholstered chairs can be moved around for each event's requirements."

Photobucket
"And The Studio has a spiffy new 5,000-lumen digital projector."

Photobucket
"Moreover, the familiar Cinematheque right across the hall now runs a 6,000-lumen beauty of its own."

Photobucket
"Using part of the estimated $275,000 budget that included building The Studio, the 127-seat Cinematheque has also benefited from updating and upscaling."

Photobucket
"Attractive wooden wainscoting panels the lower half of the walls, while pleated burgundy baffling fabric goes to the ceiling. Same screen, same risers, same projection booth, but it's no longer that 20th-century auditorium with posters thumbtacked to the walls."

 

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