After a three-month absence, Minnesota will once again have a repertory movie theater.
The Trylon, the state’s only rep house showing a well-curated selection of forgotten gems, iconoclastic indies, silents and little-seen foreign classics, has been closed since late June for ambitious expansion and renovation work. It will reopen Friday as a bigger, better, rather elegant new space in its longtime location at 33rd Street and Minnehaha Avenue S. in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood.
The theater was born in 2009 as the Trylon Microcinema. With just 50 seats, the Microcinema deserved its name, being by all accounts the tiniest film auditorium in the state. With its handsome new viewing room, taller and wider screen, powerful new sound system, second restroom, 92 handsome fixed seats and user-friendly wheelchair access for four, the Microcinema label has been dropped from the name.
“We owe a huge debt to MSR Design, our architects, for working pro bono on this theater,” said Barry Kryshka, the theater’s executive director. The architects, having designed the Minnesota Children’s Museum and Mill City Museum, changed gears for this venture. “I think this project was a good size for them to take on. And we clearly don’t have any money” for a firm of that status. “Here’s what they offered, an amazing new space.”
While it’s still modest, the new Trylon has a much-improved bone structure. The auditorium has nearly doubled to 1,160 square feet. Some improvements are primarily aesthetic. Other upgrades will notably enhance the experience of seeing a show.
“Classic films will work much better here. ‘Casablanca’ will look fantastic here because it will be longer, it’ll be wider,” said film programmer John Moret.
The Minnehaha Avenue entrance, formerly a narrow 10-foot corridor to a box office with room for two customers, has been repositioned to 33rd Street and expanded to “a space that can easily handle 20 people in line at the same time,” Kryshka said. While they wait, they will be able to smell the aroma from a new, high-output popcorn popper.
The $180,000 makeover, largely carried out by volunteers and theater staffers working side by side, was primarily funded through Kryshka’s frugal handling of box office profit over almost a decade. The transformation dramatically raises the ambience of the original venue, what an online commentator once described as a “crummy movie theater that feels like a basement.”
Aaron Day, the building’s owner, said that originally, “Trylon was an experiment. I tried to recruit tenants for that building that had synergy with the Minnehaha area’s social values, neighborhood values, personal values, income and education. They’re expressive of the neighborhood and the city as opposed to a big-box development focused on capturing consumer spending.”
The site, shared with a large Peace Coffee canteen and the charming readers’ nook Moon Palace Books, is a bohemian standout on the Minnehaha Mile, hip in a casual, indie nerd way. The theater’s exterior sign resonates a vibe that announces “Movies! Here! Seriously, Right Here!”
Trylon has operated for nearly a decade as a hidden treasure of the Twin Cities film scene, providing programming that filters out mainstream mediocrities. Its handsomely printed schedules go to a mailing list of 7,000 regulars because Trylon’s eclectic approach to creating film series is unlike film selections at any other theater. It is home to some of the greatest shows in town.
“On one Sunday you could see an Alan Ladd triple feature, and you could see a Shaw brothers kung fu film, and [1940s Hollywood star] Gloria Grahame film noir on the same day,” Moret said. “What we’re doing is allowing people to choose. It’s about loving cinema, not about loving a certain kind of cinema, or pigeonholing ourselves in a certain way of doing it.”
Which builds a sense of trust and connection. “We sell multi-pass ticket cards, but the most loyal people don’t buy them,” Kryshka said. “We have one guy who comes here all the time, and we say, ‘You should buy this thing. He says, ‘If I do you get less money.’ ”
The highlight of the grand reopening weekend will be a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 anti-Nazi classic “The Great Dictator” (“as biting a satire now as when it was originally released,” as the program notes describe it). The feature will be preceded by Chaplin’s 25-minute silent 1917 short “The Immigrant” with original live musical accompaniment by the Poor Nobodys, a seven-piece folk band from Minneapolis.