I’m a big fan of  The Insecure Critic. Have you read it? You should.

Chad Swaney reviews movies and pairs them with a great meal or decadent dessert. My favorite is, “‘Juno’ and Delux — Now I Feel Pregnant.” They are all solid, though; be sure to not miss out. In any case, I’ve had an idea hiding away for a long time and only recently has it reemerged into the daylight — largely thanks to Chad’s inspiration.

For those of us living, working and playing in and around Downtown Phoenix the movie selection is pretty limited. There’s the AMC 24 at Arizona Center and… and… yup, that’s about it.* Furthermore, to watch a decent film on the big screen, one has to travel out to Camelview 5 or over to Tempe Valley Art. Sometimes it’s worth it. Sometimes. I would, however, be way more apt to take a risk on an unknown art flick or independent film if the theater were closer. And, I’d practically run there if it had a bar to go along with it.

The concept is not new — Tucson, Portland and many cities around the country have movie theaters and bars in the same building. But, as light rail, professional sports and great food has showed us, it doesn’t need to be a new idea to have a huge impact on Downtown Phoenix.

I’m not a stranger to crazy ideas, but this one has some validity. A movie theater that shows worthwhile films within walking distance of the rail? A movie theater with beer? Something to do Downtown that doesn’t involve coffee or sports? Shoot, there’s even an opportunity for adaptive reuse: The sanctuary of that abandoned church on the northwest corner of 3rd Avenue and Monroe Street would make a perfect spot for (warning: working title) The Swig & Screen. Who’s in?

*No Festival Required shows outstanding films at Space 55, including one next Saturday. The thoughts here are in no way meant to diminish the work of those bringing film into the friendly confines of Downtown Phoenix.

  • I’m in. Space 55 has a great group, but we all know that place, once popular, won’t scale well. Only so much you can do with small space.

    That being said…go to Space 55 before it’s so popular that you can’t get in.

  • I think it’s time for something like this Downtown, and I know that residents would support it. The St. Johns Theater and Old St. Francis School in Portland have been wildly successful. Even upscale concepts back east have done well. The church you suggest would be really similar to the St. Francis building in Portland (though I’ve not seen the inside of the Monroe church) and could have some potential. Start raising the money, Sam!

  • I like that venues such as the Phoenix Art Museum and Heard Museum open up their buildings for free showings of movies that are unique. It is a great way to use unoccupied or unreserved space, as well as attract new crowds to the museums. That being said, not everyone is looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience, nor are many of these films suitable for family outings. I’d like to see the Science Center and Children’s Museum try hosting these events, or even have a few groups get together and get a room in the Convention Center. Any wall can be turned into a movie theater – it’s getting the rights that is tricky and expensive.

  • Will Novak

    Its a very good idea, but the sanctuary on 3rd Ave and Monroe isn’t the best spot for something like this. First off that building doesn’t have a roof, and roofs are pretty key for movie theaters that aren’t drive ins. The cost of rehabbing that building would be absolutely enormous and take a ton of subsidies from the City and other places.

    Better potential locations would be the old Jewish Tempe on the South side of Portland, just West of 5th Street. Its was originally a Jewish Temple (Steven Spielberg had his bar mitzvah there), then it was a theater for an African American theater troupe and now its sitting empty. There was some concern of it being knocked over for a condo project when the economy was rolling strong, but thats probably way on the back burner now. Its walking distance to the Central and Roosevelt LRT stop, and is in the Roosevelt Row area so it could feed off of that already existing energy. For those not familiar with the building, it looks like this:

    Another excellent potential location would be 747 N. Grand Ave., the historic OS Stapley Company buildings. Here’s a picture of it from yesteryear:

    The tall building in the foreground is likely large enough to house a single screen theater. The smaller single story buildings directly to the North of it could be used for bathrooms, concessions, a bar, a kitchen, the lobby, et cetera. The buildings are currently listed as for sale for $1.5M on AzArchitecture. The buildings have a great location since theyre apart of Downtowns other arts district, Lower Grand, are fairly close to LRT, and if they were converted into a theater it would make an excellent entry point and anchor to the Lower Grand district. Heck Ive even already thought up a name, “The Grand Illusion Theater” (a tip of the hat to the 1937 Renoir classic and a play on the streets name).

    If I win the Powerball tomorrow (unlikely as I don’t play) I’d snap up both of those parcels and turn them into theaters. It would be great for downtown to have a cinema that shows current art house releases like the Valley Art and the other could show double billed revival films, like the New Beverly Cinema in LA (http://www.newbevcinema.com). Downtown and Phoenix in general could certainly support both, the fact that we only have 6 dedicated art screens for a city of over 4 million is crazy and we’re vastly undeserved in this area.

    Also dont forget the Jackson St Entertainment District folks had very loose plans about trying to get a theater in that area. There was even some whispers it might be a Sundance Cinema (http://www.sundancecinemas.com/)

  • Loren

    I’m in.

    I actually saw Juno at a theater like you are describing in Cleveland, Ohio. They served up independent movies, local micro-brews and gourmet sandwiches. It was perfect. I completely agree with your sentiment about Camelview 5 and I would live to see something like this sprout up in downtown Phoenix.

    It would be great if there were a full-blown establishment that did this, but there also might be some interesting community-oriented ways we can make something like this happen while also contributing to the neighborhood feel in downtown Phoenix.

    For example, when I lived in Bloomington, Indiana I often attended something called the Ryder Film Series, which was basically a DVD played on a projector in some unused venue multiple nights throughout the week. The tickets were cheap, like $4, the movies were high quality, and some of the venues, were, in fact, bars and restaurants. Others venues were unused classrooms on Indiana University’s campus.

    It would take some creativity, commitment and collaboration, which it looks like we’ve got just from reading the comments on this blog. Sam, we just need a leader 🙂

  • Howdy,

    I’m the one who runs and books No Festival Required Independent Cinema, monthly at Space 55, soon to be monthly again for my 6th season at the Phoenix Art Museum and regularly at Modified Arts and Deus Ex Machina, a new space, MADCAP Theaters in Tempe and previously in Mesa Arts Center, Chyro Arts and a barn at the Superstition Dairy! There we screened the Rural Route Film Festival (http://www.ruralroutefilms.com). I started programming specifically for the downtown Phoenix Art scene in June 2002.

    It was nice of the editor to add the note below the post, and I’m not surprised that Sam hasn’t made it to a show. Some have, some haven’t. Trust me though, independent film is not Juno. Harkins Camelview or Blockbuster can show you Juno.

    The fact is there is phenomenal work coming from individual filmmakers and small distributors that will never make the multiplex and in many cases not show up on Netflix or Amazon, though many of the films I’ve championed eventually showed up on Sundance Channel or are now on the Netflix and festival runs. In other cities many of the content I get would stick around for at least a week or two if not more, here it’s repertory film and is a one show, one night to a hall for 50 people with half-filled seats or yes, the Phoenix Art Museum Sunday screenings with 300+…for free.

    I look for quality work that isn’t going to be shown at Harkins, though some should be. I also look for some works that aren’t plot-driven and some that are highly politically charged. Most are for an adult audience and some are highly adult in nature and content. Some of these have played at the art museum, and I thank them for their courage and willingness to go beyond traditional fare. You can get a good idea of the screenings from the Upcoming and Previous Screenings link on my website, http://www.nofestivalrequired.wordpress.com

    All of this is to inform, but it’s also to challenge. The need for a truly independent cinema in downtown Phoenix is great, but the desire and audience participation is necessary. It is the last missing link in the fine art food chain, but it is the one most susceptible to sloth. You can’t rent a painting or a bar with live entertainment, but as TV becomes more connected to the computer and the image quality goes Blu-Ray, how do you get folks off their recliners and into a car to come downtown?

    I believe it’s to show the work you can’t see elsewhere or any other way.

    I’m working hard daily on the right place and time to build this dream cinema, and would welcome any help you give me. But meanwhile what better way to show it’s a viable business direction than your current participation in the smaller spaces and shows that are screening stuff you can’t get ON DEMAND(tm)?

    I welcome your input at steve@nofestivalrequired dot com and like the editor said, I have a show on October 3.


    and two more shows in October, all different films, all great, all thoughtful.

    Hope to see you there.

    Steve Weiss
    Executive Director, No Festival Required

    • Sam

      “It was nice of the editor to add the note below the post, and I’m not surprised that Sam hasn’t made it to a show. Some have, some haven’t. Trust me though, independent film is not Juno. Harkins Camelview or Blockbuster can show you Juno.”

      Hey Steve,

      Just a couple points of clarification:

      First, I (the author) made the note at the bottom of the post, not the editor. I respect the great work you do with NFR, and I wanted to be clear that my perceived need for more big screen entertainment downtown was not construed as a knock on your effort to bring fantastic film to the residents and visitors of Downtown Phoenix. Also, note that only Space 55 and NFR had outgoing links – not the other theaters mentioned. Nothing wrong with a little free promotion, right?

      Second, I have been to a NFR showing. A few, actually. In addition to films at Space 55, I have also enjoyed my share of local, art house, and independent films at the Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Museum, Fair Trade Cafe, and other venues – including the sides of buildings. I even promoted the “Axe In The Attic” film on my personal blog (http://is.gd/3znrb) and throughout the network of the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus.

      Lastly, I don’t disagree that Juno was a fairly mainstream film. However, my argument was more for the place rather than content. As of right now, the only venue in the downtown area that shows film every night is the AMC at Arizona Center. I honestly don’t think it matters whether the proposed theater screens westerns, horror flicks, or Bollywood reels. If we build it, they will come. Shoot, maybe we can even show that classic on opening night…

      Again, thank you for the great work you do in making Downtown Phoenix a better place to live, work, and play. Looking forward to helping make our little city grow up responsibly, holistically, and artfully – together.