NON PROFIT MAKES BIG IMPRESSION: THE JACOB BURNS FILM CENTER
The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) is a non-profit cultural arts center dedicated to: presenting the best of independent, documentary, and world cinema; promoting 21st century literacy; and making film a vibrant part of the community. Located on a 47,500 square foot, three-building campus in the center of Pleasantville, the JBFC is just 30 miles outside of New York City and 25 minutes from Palisades.
The JBFC began in 1998 when a group of individuals interested in creating a cultural arts center in Westchester County purchased the old Rome Theater in Pleasantville, New York. The Rome Theater, a beautiful Spanish mission-style, historic land-marked building built in 1925, was one of the first movie theaters in Westchester County. Opened during the golden age of cinema, the New York Times called it “The Show Place of Westchester County.” It was an active cinema, showing films until 1987, when it closed its doors due to competition from neighboring multiplexes. The group, led by founder Stephen Apkon, secured the building and an adjacent lot, formed a nonprofit organization (originally known as The Friends of the Rome Theater), and launched a $5 million capital campaign to establish the Film Center.
Early on, the campaign received a $1.5 million grant from the Jacob Burns Foundation. The Film Center received its name in honor of this leadership gift. Mr. Burns was a prominent New York attorney specializing in corporate law and estates and trusts. He was a philanthropist, a painter, and a corporate leader. He died in 1993.
Since the JBFC opened its doors to the public in June 2001, over 2,000,000 people have seen over 5,400 films from more than 40 countries. The campus includes the 27,000 square foot Media Arts Lab, the JBFC’s state-of-the-art education center, a creative and educational community for storytellers in the digital age offering one-time workshops, intensive courses, and weekend programs for children and adults of all ages.
Over 65,000 students in grades 3-12 and in college have participated in their education programs, more than 50% of them from underserved communities throughout the tri-state area. Their participation, including transportation, is funded entirely by the Film Center, thanks in part to support from individuals, foundations, and corporations.
Current board members of the JBFC include Steven Spielberg, Janet Maslin, Ron Howard and Jonathan Demme. Besides having special events and showing current foreign and independent film releases, the center also has three ongoing film series worth noting. The first is called “Frame Works Art On Film” which is a weekly series that features prominent guests from the worlds of filmmaking and visual arts. The second is “World Stage on Screen” which features the best of international theatre, opera and dance brought to the screen. This includes live simulcasts from The National Theatre in London. The third (and my personal favorite) is called “After Dark” which shows little known films of the strange, beautiful, and offbeat.
From the exposed brick lobby with soaring ceilings to the Rube Goldberg deliberately over-engineered pin ball-like machine display, this is no regular movie going experience. It is also one of the very few theatres left that, in addition to digital projection, can still project actual 35mm film, so you feel you are indeed watching a film and not a television show.
The theatre also comes complete with its own eclectic group of local move aficionados (known as Film Fanatics) who en- joy seeing challenging cinema at the JBFC, and whose purpose is to view only the most unusual (and sometimes controversial) films being shown. It is a large group and they meet 15 minutes in the lobby before the film starts usually on a Monday or Tuesday evening. They then travel to a local watering hole afterwards to discuss world cinema and to hopefully score a date.
The Jacob Burns Film Center is located at 364 Manville Road, Pleasantville, N.Y. Detailed information can be seen on their website: www.burnsfilmcenter.org