The Roxie’s Angel

Good news: The Roxie Theater has found an angel. The non-profit New College of California is taking over the oldest continually-running movie theater in San Francisco, known for introducing new independent films that are truly independent, not Miramax independent. Renamed the Roxie Film Center, it will be, according to the press release, “a non-profit Cinema and Arts Center” (hey, it wasn’t making a profit anyway).

How will the Roxie’s programming style change with the new ownership? “In a nutshell, not at all,” Program Director and former owner Bill Banning told me. But he felt the need to qualify the statement. “The program is always in flux.”

One thing that will change is Banning’s responsibilities, which he hopes will result in more interesting shows. Relieved of the day-to-day chores of running the theater, “I’ll have more time to put into programming.”

Executive Director Allyce Bess described some of these possible changes. “We’re hoping to bring in more directors, special interest groups…create more special events.”

The Roxie will continue to distribute independent films through its Roxie Releasing subsidiary, which made the 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides an art house hit. Even as a non-profit, the Roxie isn’t about to lose the only profitable part of its operations. “The theater has always lost money,” Banning admits.

Considering that business history, it’s not surprising that “We’ve considered going non-profit from the day I walked in here 22 years ago,” recalls Banning. “We would come close, then [Roxie Releasing] would acquire a minor hit.”

In addition to its regular programming, the Roxie will also host New College film classes.

The extremely-friendly takeover, which was the result of seven months of discussions, brings several advantages. Just being part of a larger organization reduces overhead. New College comes with a PR staff, four-color printing, and other resources that the Roxie once had to pay for or do without.

And being part of an established non-profit puts the Roxie in a better position to bring in money. Bess, whose parents brought her to the Roxie as a child, secured a $200,000 anonymous donation that was contingent on the New College deal working out. The donor wasn’t “sure that the Roxie going non-profit [by] itself would work.”

This donation will get the Roxie out of a troublesome debt that was threatening the theater’s ability to book films. “After we pay all of the distributors, we hope to regain their trust,” explains Bess. “There were a lot of films that we couldn’t show” because the distributors lost faith in the Roxie.

A wider choice of films available? Lower overhead? It seems as if an important part of the Bay Area film scene will survive, after all.

In other, admittedly less exciting, news, I’m adding two new icons to my listings as of Bayflicks’ December 25-31 calendar: for Kind of Recommended, and for Not Recommended. Like (Recommended), and (Noteworthy), clicking these icons will bring you my pop-up opinion. You don’t have to click the (Personal Appearance), (Silent Movie With Live Musical Accompaniment), or (Special Print) icons; just rest your mouse pointer over them for a brief explanation.

. And, in case you’re not in the mood to click icons, here are my comments for this week (all, it just so happens, recommendations):

Recommended: The Best of Youth, Balboa, starts Friday. Easily the best two-part, six-hour movie since Godfather I and II. Originally made for Italian television, Best of Youth follows the fortunes of one family, a close circle of their friends, and the Italian people as a whole, from 1966 to 2003. As the story slowly unfolds and you experience the personal joys and crises, and the actual history, you grow to know and love these people as if they were old friends. This is life, as Alfred Hitchcock allegedly put it, “with the boring bits taken out.” Be sure to see Part I first.

Recommended: Gold Diggers of 1933, Castro, Tuesday. Before A Hard Day’s Night, before Singin’ in the Rain, before Astaire and Rogers (well, before Astaire), Warner Brothers was putting out a whole different type of musical; smart, sassy, funny, definitely pre-code, and with Busby Berkeley production numbers that defied both description and the laws of physics. Gold Diggers of 1933 is the best early-thirties’ Warner musical; upbeat, sexy, and entertaining, but never really letting you forget that there’s a depression going on out there. As part of its Busby Berkeley series, the Castro is presenting Gold Diggers of 1933 on a double-bill with a sequel of sorts, Gold Diggers of 1935.

Recommended: 42nd Street, Castro, Wednesday. This isn’t just a backstage musical; it’s the backstage musical, complete with the chorus girl ingénue whose big chance comes when the star breaks her ankle. A close second to Gold Diggers of 1933, with good humor and spectacular Busby Berkeley dance numbers that could never happen on a real Broadway stage. Co-staring Ginger Rogers as Anytime Annie, who “only said no once, and then she didn’t hear the question.” Still part of the Busby Berkeley series, and on a double-bill with Footlight Parade.