With purchase of Isis Theatre, Aspen Film enters new era

September 29, 2022

With purchase of Isis Theatre, Aspen Film enters new era

Tuesday marked a milestone for Aspen Film and its future involvement in the community. With Aspen City Council having approved Aspen Film’s purchase of the Isis Theatre, the arts nonprofit is looking to enter a whole new realm of what it will be able to cultivate for the community.

The purchase agreement has an official closing date of Oct. 14 and will allow Aspen Film to acquire the theater portion of the Isis building. This interior space includes the four individual theater rooms, concession-stand areas and restroom facilities.

While the name “Isis” must remain due to deed restrictions, the council agreed to amend one of the building’s covenants, which will now permit Aspen Film to have internal naming rights of the four-screen complex.

Under the new ownership, the Isis Theatre will become a permanent and primary exhibition space for Aspen Film — which gives the organization more creative control in terms of programming, screenings and events, and more opportunities when it comes to the communal use of the space, explained Aspen Film Executive and Artistic Director Susan Wrubel.

“Most film societies have a brick-and-mortar space to execute programming,” Wrubel said. “And so being able to take over this space better places us into the community and gives us the flexibility to do a lot more with the community.”

Going into Tuesday’s city council meeting, Wrubel said that while she was hoping for council members to be in favor of the acquisition, their resounding positivity around the topic was overwhelming.

“Hearing that enthusiasm was probably the best feeling I’ve had in the five years I’ve been in Aspen,” Wrubel said.

She went on to express how it feels good for Aspen Film to be embarking on its next chapter with this level of support from the city and community at-large. It shows how hard work really does pay off, Wrubel said.

Aspen Film has been a tenant of the Isis Theatre since entering a partnership with the city in 2007 — a decade before Wrubel stepped into her leadership role. And it was around the time when Wrubel came on board that Aspen Film was first presented with the option to purchase the interior theater portion of the Isis building, she said, which had depended on the nonprofit paying off a significant debt to the city, its landlord.

Also at the time of Wrubel’s takeover, Aspen Film was subletting its theater spaces to Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Theatres — the company which had served as its operator since the 2007 agreement.

When the pandemic put a halt to the live movie-going experience, puncturing theater businesses across the globe, even more complexities surfaced for the Isis Theatre and its tenants. Wrubel said the Isis closed for a 12-month period, during which Aspen Film still had to maintain rent and HOA dues. She mentioned the city’s support throughout this challenging time.

“For everyone in the exhibition business, it’s been a challenge,” Wrubel said. “Most theaters still have not come back to where they fully were.”

Despite the pandemic and all of the other existing dynamics at-play, Wrubel remained determined for Aspen Film to take ownership of the Isis Theatre space — she had been ever since it became an option. The executive director saw its acquisition as a bright opportunity to further ­engage the community in Aspen Film’s robust cinematic offerings, rather than being limited to usage rights and scheduling conflicts.

“With this ownership, we can now use the theater at our discretion,” Wrubel said. “And we have the ability to make it available to other nonprofit organizations and groups in the valley, too.”

Now looking ahead, Wrubel explained how Aspen Film is working to cultivate the Isis Theatre as more of a community space and concept. There are plans to dedicate one of the four theater rooms to education, Wrubel said, a space for students, teachers and other locals to work on film projects.

Other plans in the works include a list of internal improvement projects, like upscaling the concession areas and creating more ADA-accessible facilities — one being the theater’s upstairs restroom, Wrubel said.

Aspen Film also will look to resuscitate the downstairs reception area to be able to hold events and gatherings and will add a stage in an upstairs theater for more interactive programming with audiences, whether for guest speakers or post-screening panels, the executive director said.

Additionally, there are goals to incorporate a new grab-and-go café — which would be open daily as a coffee and lunch spot and with prices that “align with what Aspen locals are looking for in these times,” according to Wrubel.

Construction is set to take place in 2023, though everything is in its early stages and still being worked through, Wrubel said.

When it comes to other internal changes, Aspen Film has brought on Bow Tie Cinemas — a commercial movie theater operations company which currently runs Movieland 7 in Basalt — to handle the theater’s day-to-day operations such as concession, ticketing and maintenance. Wrubel said Aspen Film will have much more of a hand in the actual film programming and screening schedules.

Aspen Film will still maintain its relationship with the Wheeler Opera House for festival screenings and big events and will keep its office spaces at the Red Brick Center for the Arts, Wrubel said. What the acquisition of the Isis Theatre means is that Aspen Film finally has a place to call its exhibitions home, a place where the ­organization will look to ­deepen community engagement through shared cinematic experiences.

“For all arts organizations, having your own place is important to be able to execute what is needed for a community,” Wrubel said. “This is a gamechanger.”

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