Thanks to George R.R. Martin, The Jean Cocteau Cinema Lives Again

Casey St. Charnez - April 23, 2013

Shuttered and dark for seven sad years now, downtown Santa Fe’s Jean Cocteau Cinema will reopen as a movie theater some time this coming summer, says author George R.R. Martin, its new owner.

Further, it still will be called the Jean Cocteau.

The announcement came at an onsite press conference April 23, hosted by freshman exhibitor Martin and his new manager, Jon Bowman.

The two emphasized that the 120-seat venue, slated for its re-birth in four to six months, will look pretty much the same as it did to audiences 20 years ago.

“Architects are on a redesign of the concession stand,” he said, "but not much more." The 20th century film projectors are still “in very good shape. They took care of this place. It was always run by people who loved movies. This is a wonderful theater.”

Martin says the idea of re-animating the JCC came to him went he had been sent out “by my wife Parris and some minions” on a barbecue run to the Whole Hog Cafe. “I drove up to the front as I was leaving the parking lot, and I saw a sign that it was for lease, and thought, Why doesn’t someone reopen it? Then I thought, Why don’t I reopen it?”

And so he is in the midst of doing precisely that.

Martin, being Martin, knows it’s all about the movies. An avid filmgoer since his childhood matinees in Bayonne, Martin, who moved to Santa Fe in 1979, mourns the local theaters he used to go to--the City Lights, Capitol, even the Coronado Twin, where you could hear the bowling alley on the other side of the wall. Their absence “makes me a little sad,” he said. “It really saddened me when the Jean Cocteau closed.”

Martin admits that “although I’ve been involved in the entertainment field most of my life, as an author, a screenwriter, a co-executive producer on Game of Thrones, I don’t know how to run a movie theater. That’s why I hired Jon Bowman.”

George R.R. Martin Introducing Jon Bowman.

As the play’s the thing, so are the right movies essential to keeping the seats filled. Bowman has been a local motion picture fixture for decades. While in college at UNM, he wrote simultaneous movie review columns for three different newspapers. He had a distinguished repertorial stint at “The Santa Fe New Mexican” for some time, then for many years was a high editorial mucky-muck at “New Mexico Magazine.”

But Bowman is best known here as the guiding light of the Santa Fe Film Festival for a decade. It was working with the SFFF that he learned the ins and outs and sideways of film booking and exhibition, an expertise he brings to the JCC.

Promising programming that will be “eclectic, and in the tradition of what this theater has always been,” Bowman foresees series events, midnight shows, film fest tie-ins, with an atmosphere “like a clubhouse for movie lovers in Santa Fe.”

All will be undertaken, Bowman cautions, “in the spirit of art, not commerce. George bought the theater because he wanted to give back to the community.” 

Still, perhaps of paramount importance in the theater-going experience, Martin feels, is the snack bar. Hence, his adamant declaration that “I’m bound and determined to again have the best popcorn in town. This is the theater where I became addicted to putting parmesan on my popcorn.”

Beer and wine are a possible option. The once-notorious four-chair private screening room (with wine rack) will remain. Also, the floor plan will upgrade to even more wheelchair-friendly, while upstairs the projection room is set to go digital. Some live events may also be in the offing.

Martin confessed right off that he “didn’t intend to go public until we were a little more advanced, but word got out early, so here we are.” Bothered not at all by JCC’s proximity to the proposed Railyard cinema—“I’ve seen four theaters announced for that spot and the hole’s still there”—Martin says he’s “very optimistic about the long-term possibilities of the Railyard.”

Accordingly, George R.R. Martin is now a Santa Fe landlord. He now owns not only the theater but also the “terrific old building” it’s in. With three retail spaces, a second floor of offices that used to belong to the New Mexico Film Office, even a basement, Martin has a property manager scouting possible tenants. He mentioned that “right now there’s somebody downstairs shooting a vampire movie.”

That seems uncannily appropriate for someone like Martin who has loved sci-fi/fantasy since he was a kid, and who has gone on to make his name mega-renowned in the field.

Given his druthers, I asked him, what would he like to see as the first movie to show opening night of the new Jean Cocteau?

“Oh!” he exclaimed. “The greatest science-fiction movie of them all.” That would, of course, be Forbidden Planet.

“But maybe we’ll show Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast,” he continued. "That would seem right. Who knows?”

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