Following years of speculation and false starts, Minnesota Film Arts (MFA) will move to a new home in 2010. After 27 years of exhibiting foreign and independent movies on screens around the University of Minnesota's East Bank campus, it will relocate to the five-screen St. Anthony Main theater beginning Jan. 8.
Oak Street Cinema, the organization's home for seven years, will go dark except for special events, parties and rentals. It has long been expected to be demolished to make way for a housing project. Operating the 312-seat Art Deco venue profitably has been difficult in recent years, said MFA board member Tim Grady.
The Oak Street, built in 1916, has been plagued by heating, cooling and electrical issues. Construction in the Stadium Village area increased congestion, parking is expensive and students, once the theater's core audience, have migrated to Netflix and flat-screen TVs.
"Thirty years ago we could show a Japanese film, and 300 people would line up around the block," Grady said. Now, "many students don't know where the Oak Street is," as revivals and retrospectives draw more mature audiences.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, which MFA mounts each spring, migrated to the St. Anthony cinema in 2008, a move that won praise from patrons. "The festival's been a huge success there, and [relocating] was the logical next step," he said.
The St. Anthony theater, which opened in 1983 on the Minneapolis riverfront across from downtown, offers "all sorts of benefits including free parking," Grady said.
The effect of the move for film fans will be more art-film diversity, Grady said. Many distributors wait for months to land a date at the local Landmark theaters, the Uptown, Edina and Lagoon. "Sometimes they never get played. We aim to fill in that gap," he said.
MFA will initially rent one screen at the multiplex and then two after April's film festival. "That will allow us to run retrospectives and revivals on one screen and new art-film releases on another," Grady said. Within a year the organization could operate the entire theater. With international cinema on two or three screens alongside mainstream Hollywood fare, "we've got the potential for a crossover audience," he said.
MFA's roots were planted by the University Film Society, which was founded by Twin Cities art-film godfather Al Milgrom in 1962. It formed MFA in a 2002 merger with another nonprofit, Oak Street Arts, formed by Augsburg College film studies Prof. Bob Cowgill and a cadre of film lovers who renovated what was known as the Campus Theatre before it closed in 1989. The historic theater reopened in 1995.
The last scheduled Oak Street screening will be the holiday favorite "Ronia, the Robber's Daughter," which is to Twin Cities cinephiles what "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is to TV viewers. The Swedish children's fantasy will be presented in a newly struck copy, the only full-length, perfect-condition, English-subtitled print in the world. It runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 3. The first title to be shown at the new location has not been announced.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186