By KATE ALBRIGHT
For Montclair Local
Dozens gathered Wednesday on the eve of the launch of the 10th Montclair Film Festival to celebrate the reopening of the newly renovated Clairidge Cinemas.
The six-screen cinema, previously run by Bow Tie Cinemas and closed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, is now operated by the nonprofit Montclair Film and will host most of this year’s festival screenings. Members of the nonprofit will also be entitled to discounts and other special benefits for movies at the theater.
RHG Architecture+Design, which designed Montclair Film’s home at 505 Bloomfield Ave., worked with Mulvey Custom Contracting on the Clairidge’s renovations. The project to renovate the cinema began in June.
Rachael Grochowski, architect and founder of RHG Architecture+Design, said she was impressed at how well the team worked together: “Even in good times, easy times, this is a condensed schedule and we got it pretty much done.”
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Grochowski said there are a few touches still to come, like poster boxes in the corridors and tables in the lounge area. The theaters have been revitalized to include new carpeting, sconces and seating headrests. A few of the chairs also received new armrests.
But the heart of the renovation is the lobby and concession area.
“It’s so new and different,” Montclair Film founder and board Chairman Bob Feinberg said. “I’ve been coming to the Clairidge for 20-odd years and the movies have always been great, but the theater was getting pretty tired. So we’ve sort of reenvisioned the space.”
Feinberg said the renovated lobby gives the theater a clean, sophisticated look.
An area that was previously reserved for staff has been converted into an open lounge, located near the concession stand.
“The idea was that people would not just come here to watch film, but they could also be here to discuss film, and be here as a community,” Grochowski said. “And so we really worked to try to create spaces that supported that. So, including in the concessions area, there’s places to sit and have a beverage and hang out for a while before or after a film.”
The Clairidge will continue the tradition of screening independent, foreign films and great art house movies, Montclair Film Executive Director Tom Hall said. But it will also be a home for New Jersey filmmakers, local artists and student filmmakers to show their work.
“So we’re going to carve out time 100% for sure to make sure that people have access,” Hall said.
Hall encourages filmmakers to reach out to Montclair Film’s Filmmakers Local 505 program. Information is at MontclairFilm.org.
Speaking to the crowd before a ribbon-cutting Wednesday night, Feinberg said the Montclair Film Festival has grown since he first conceived of it 11 years ago. He gave a special thanks to Dick Grabowsky, owner of multiple buildings in town, including the Clairidge. Montclair Film announced it would lease the space from Grabowsky over the summer.
“I had the idea that we really needed a storefront,” Feinberg said. “So people would think this [Montclair Film Festival] was a real thing. It wasn’t just something happening in one of our basements.”
Before the festival’s first year, Feinberg was introduced to Grabowsky and pitched the idea of the film festival to him.
“He saw something in us and believed in us at a time when we were really just at the very beginning,” Feinberg said.
Grabowsky gave Montclair Film use of a storefront at no charge, which became Montclair Film’s headquarters at 505 Bloomfield Ave. 10 years ago.
Township Council members Bob Russo and Lori Price Abrams were also in attendance Wednesday night. Russo toasted the film festival, Montclair film clubs and “the Colbert leadership,” which gives a lot of life to the festival, he said. Evelyn Colbert is president of Montclair Film’s Board of Trustees. Her husband, Stephen Colbert of “Late Show” and “Daily Show” fame, is a frequent featured participant — this year, speaking with Dionne Warwick about the documentary “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over” at the Wellmont Theater on Saturday, Oct. 23, and actress, writer and director Maggie Gyllenhaal about her film “The Lost Daughter,” on Sunday, Oct. 24, at Montclair Kimberly Academy’s Upper School.
Price Abrams expressed her appreciation for Montclair Film’s leaders implementing their vision, and for the creation of “this beautiful space that’s just been enhanced in extraordinary ways.”
Evelyn Colbert gave her thanks as well.
“I can say on behalf of the entire Colbert family, we feel lucky to live in Montclair. We moved here 20 years ago because of the arts in this town. And now look — kind of amazing,” she said. “And it’s been a tough couple of years — the pandemic, flood — but we’re back baby, and we’re stronger than ever. And we appreciate all your help and support. And we’ll see you at the movies.”
Clairidge Cinemas had been closed since the March 2020 lockdowns Gov. Phil Murphy ordered to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Bow Tie Cinemas was one of a group of movie theater chains that, alongside the National Association of Theatre Owners, sued Murphy in July 2020, saying it was unfair and unreasonable to keep theaters shut. The lawsuit was later withdrawn, when theaters were allowed to reopen in September 2020 at limited capacity, but Bow Tie never reopened the theater.
The newly reopened space will also be home to monthly live performances of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” by The Ordinary Kids Floor Show, formed in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. Live performances of Rocky Horror had a longtime presence in Montclair under a different troupe, at the Bellevue Theater (also slated to reopen in the next several months) until 2017. The first Ordinary Kids show will be Halloween night, Oct. 30, at 9 p.m., as part of the festival.
The Clairidge will be the operating base for the festival. Tickets for festival screenings can be purchased online or in person at the box office, located inside the exterior lobby of the Clairidge Cinemas on Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Attendees will be required to wear masks and to show proof of vaccination at all venues.