January 14, 2009
Santa Fe New Mexican
Curtains for College of Santa Fe's The Screen
College of Santa Fe's financial woes take toll on movie theater, which is set to close at end of month
Robert Nott | The New Mexican
The end credits are about to roll at the city's premier art-house cinema.
The Screen, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in December, will close at the end of January, according to Jonathan Wacks, chairman of the Moving Images Arts Department at the College of Santa Fe.
Wacks announced the closure in an e-mail Tuesday, noting "the dire financial circumstances of the college have resulted in this action being taken by the administration."
The college has been struggling financially over the past few years and is facing an estimated $30 million in debt. It's unknown how much the college will save by closing down The Screen, but in a phone interview Wacks said he and Screen director of programming Brent Kliewer recently proposed a "break-even budget" to college administrators to keep the cinema operating until the end of May.
That plan included increased ticket prices, fewer screenings and Kliewer continuing in his present job without salary. The college administration rejected the plan. "They were unwilling to take the risk that it could show a loss of any kind at all," Wacks said.
College of Santa Fe President Stuart C. Kirk did not return a call seeking comment.
The Screen — originally called The Screen at Studio 2 — opened in December 1998, financed by New York City-based philanthropists Armand and Celeste Bartos and their Pinewood Foundation. The initial cost was approximately $1 million, Wacks said. While showcasing contemporary foreign and American-made art and independent films as well as classic European and American movies, The Screen — which seats about 170 — also served as an educational facility for College of Santa Fe students.
"One of big motivations to build The Screen was its students would see movies as movies and not as DVDs," Wacks explained. "We had history and theory classes in there, and we would bring in films in original 35mm."
Kliewer — who deferred all questions to Wacks — began his film-curating career in Santa Fe in 1983 when he took over the Collective Fantasy cinema, which later became the Jean Cocteau Cinema, now the location of the New Mexico Film Museum.
In a 2006 interview with Pasatiempo, Kliewer said it wasn't a romantic business. "People say, 'Oh, it must be great to run your own movie house.' I say, 'Yeah, it's great when you're cleaning the toilet and the projector breaks down and films get lost in shipping and customers are griping to you about the screening time being wrong because they didn't read the schedule correctly.' "
The Screen's budget was dependent on ticket sales, Wacks said. "If you do largely noncommercial fare, it's very difficult to make money," he said. "But being in the context of an educational institution, the purpose was not to make money, but to provide students and the community with a cultural venue."
Las Vegas-based New Mexico Highlands University is in the process of taking over the school, pending approval from the state Legislature — which will have to provide funding — and from the Higher Learning Commission. If Highlands takes over the college, Wacks said, he hopes The Screen would reopen next autumn. "There is no one better qualified and suited to do so (run it) than Brent," he added.
Jerry Barron, who has curated the Summer in the Dark film noir series with Kliewer at The Screen, said, "Obviously it's a bad day for filmgoers in Santa Fe. Brent was a big reason Santa Fe has such a dedicated film audience, and it's terrible that the best place to watch movies — whether they're art movies or not — is gone."
Veteran French director Claude Miller's drama A Secret will be the last film to open at The Screen, starting Jan. 23. Several other titles, including the romantic comedy In Search of a Midnight Kiss and the documentary Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, will likely play through the end of January.
The theater may be used as a lecture hall or to show the occasional film or DVD to students, Wacks said. Still, he added, "it breaks my heart to see it go dark."
Robert Nott can be reached at 986-3021 or email@example.com.