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Thursday, June 23, 2011

S.F. Film Society Lands New Japantown Venue

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2011 at 2:00 PM


Say goodbye to SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas. As of Sept. 1, the San Francisco Film Society is relocating its theatrical exhibition outpost two blocks down Post Street at the New People complex.

The state of the art, 143-seat theater currently known as Viz Cinema will be rechristened San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema. It's a mouthful, sure, but at least you won't have to deal with an annoying surcharge and reserved seats to see a foreign-language art film or local documentary. (No, we haven't forgotten all the friends who complained to us when the Sundance instituted its then-new-to-S.F. price structure.)

"The Kabuki arrangement was a very amicable one, and it allowed us to get our feet wet in expanded exhibition," SFFS executive director Graham Leggat told us. "Now we need to take this lovely little plant we've grown and repot it."

The SFFS is graduating from a 60-seat theater tucked in the back of the Kabuki to a 143-seat house with all-day, every day access. The fare will include the usual one-week runs of new international films as well as most of the SFFS's fall series and festivals such as Taiwan Film Days, French Cinema Now, Cinema By the Bay, and the S.F. International Animation Festival. The organization also plans to use the theater for daytime youth-education screenings and some of its adult classes.

The Film Society, of course, produces the annual S.F. International Film Festival in the spring. The Kabuki has been the festival hub for years, and Leggat is confident it will remain so.

"Obviously, we need a home, and for a couple of decades it's been the Kabuki," he says. "We don't expect that to change in any way."

Long desirous of a year-round exhibition space, the film society began programming one of the small Kabuki houses three years ago. More recently, the organization and the landlord of the Clay Theatre held protracted and frustrating negotiations that failed to produce a deal.

"Despite everybody's best efforts, the Clay proved to be too complicated a proposition," Leggat says.

He says he's not especially disappointed, given the technical capabilities and quality of presentation at the San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema. The venue offers digital video projection (increasingly essential as fewer movies are output to film every year) as well as analog changeover projectors required to show archival prints from collections around the world.

"Outside of [George] Lucas' private theater and Dolby's private theater -- and New People would argue it's competitive with those -- this is far and away the best commercial theater in the city," Leggat says.

Viz Cinema has specialized in Japanese films, from new pop-culture releases to anime and vintage masterpieces by Kurosawa, Ozu, and Imamura. The lease, which allows for several years' occupancy including renewals, does not require the SFFS to program any Japanese series.

"New People's mandate is a multicultural, multiperspective view of the world," Leggat says. "So automatically we dovetail with that."

The San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema debuts Friday, Sept. 2, a holiday weekend, so events touting the grand reopening will be pushed to the middle of the month. This "soft launch" has an unexpected side benefit: A bit more time for moviegoers to coin a snappier, shorter, text-friendly nickname for the theater.

One suggestion we've heard, Society Cinema, evokes William Powell in his Thin Man tux. Elegant, certainly, but perhaps too 20th-century. Got a better idea?

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Michael Fox

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