When the Roxy Theater reopens later this year, it will look to be the rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor.
Before it went dark last October, the last movie theater in Rittenhouse Square had limped along for years playing mainstream fare to diminishing audiences in threadbare conditions. A week later, the Philadelphia Film Festival began in a celebratory mood as the Philadelphia Film Society announced a 16-year lease for the Roxy as its new home base.
“The Roxy is ingrained in all of our memories of living in Philadelphia,” says PFS artistic director Michael Lerman. “It’s the perfect marriage of a beautiful historical place and a home for us.”
It’s been a long time since the Roxy could be called “beautiful.” Opened in 1975 as a single-screen theater, it’s had numerous owners through the years, including TLA co-founders Ray Murray and Claire Brown Kohler and “A Clockwork Orange” executive producer Max Raab. It will now serve as a year-round venue to extend the PFS’ mission beyond its annual festival.
“Anything that would play the festival can play the Roxy,” Lerman says. “That could be independent films, foreign films and some Hollywood stuff. We’re looking forward to the idea that we can wake up with a great idea and just do it.”
Before any of that happens, however, the theater will need to be renovated. The project recently met its funding goals through a Kickstarter campaign which continues through this Friday. New seating and screens will be installed, along with a new digital projection system. Lerman expects the theater to open this spring, with further upgrades to continue over the next few years.
Tonight, the PFS will host a fundraising event featuring a screening of “Primer” director Shane Carruth’s uncategorizable new film “Upstream Color,” which met with divisive responses at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Carruth will be in attendance for a Q&A following the screening, which will be preceded by a cocktail hour at Positano Coast. “'Upstream Color’ is a really innovative piece of filmmaking,” Lerman says. “It’s kind of the extreme of the renegade independent spirit that we’re going to reinfuse the Roxy with. A lot of our members come out to see something different, and this is definitely something different.”
If you go