It’s not every day that someone declares that he wants to build a theater, so when one actually gets built, it’s truly a romantic thing.
“It’s a dream come true,” says Marco Ursino, filmmaker and founder of the Brooklyn International Film Festival. Ursino owns indieScreen, located at 285 Kent Ave. (S. 2nd St.) along with contractor Krzystof Pogorzelski and restaurateur Anna Popermhem.
“After the Commodore theater closed in 2002, I’ve been waiting and waiting for someone to build a new theater in Williamsburg, but no one did, so I decided to build one myself,” says Ursino.
The three partners settled on a 7,500 sq. ft. warehouse space at the Kent Ave. loca-tion because of the explosive condo developments on the waterfront. “Also, I figure if people are willing to travel to Manhattan to see a movie, then they wouldn’t mind walking a couple of extra blocks to the waterfront to see an independ-ent film.”
It was Contractor Pogorzelski’s first time out tackling a theater, but looking at the sleek and polished space now, you wouldn’t know it. The theater has tall dark walls, recessed lighting, and stadium seating. The chairs are cushioned theater seats equipped with flip-up tables, just in case you want to take notes or eat a full-course dinner while watching a movie. Though it only seats 93 people, it features a high-quality, digital high-definition projector and an impressive 17’× 8′ screen.
“It was a really fun project, especially the part where I stood there and listened to Marco and Anna arguing in Italian,” laughs Pogorzekski. He said that because his company, K Construction, takes on a variety of projects, building a theater wasn’t such a daunting task. “I’ve built home theaters before, but nothing like this. We had specialists come in for different phases of the project: how to set up the seats, how to sound proof the walls, what kind of wires to use so it can pass inspection. All told, it took about three months for the hardcore construction and three months for the finessing,” he says.
“Krzystof did a beautiful job,” says Ursino. “I wanted a professional theater to show the films. I’ve seen people just throw up a screen, line up a few rows of folding chairs in an old bar, and call it a theater. I’m sorry, but that is not a proper theater.”
From the start, Ursino knew that a cinema dedicated to independent films was a risky business. After all, many small theaters around New York have come and gone in recent years, so he decided to include a bar and a restaurant—a party space—so the venue could be rented out for other functions. The theater had a soft opening this June. Today it is open from 6pm to midnight daily, playing various independent and foreign films, including “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” “Tiny Furniture,” “The Road Home,” “All Good Things,” and old-time classics such as Chaplin’s “Modern Times,” Fellini’s “La Strada,” and Roman Polanski’s 1962 thriller, “Knife in the Water.” Daily schedules are published at indieScreen.com.
Ursino’s American adventure started in 1988 when he came to New York from Torino, Italy, to study filmmaking at St. John’s University. He moved to Williamsburg in 1994 and realized that, though there were plenty of filmmakers in New York, there were no international film festivals. “One day, I stood up in a room of about ten people and said, ‘let’s do a film festival,’ but everybody was like…No, no, don’t do that, it’ll never work.’” He didn’t listen, of course, and in 1998 he staged the first Williamsburg Brooklyn Film Festival with a few friends. That year, they received 150 entries from 17 countries and showed 30 films at the Williamsburg Arts and Historical Center on Broadway. The follow-ing year, the festival commandeered the Commodore, an elegant 1920’s era theater with over 1,400 seats on Broadway, near the Marcy Ave. J train station.
“The Commodore even has a chandelier!” he remembers fondly. When the Commodore threatened to shut down two years later, he joined a group of local film aficionados to try to landmark the old vaudeville theater, but to no avail. It closed its doors in 2002. The festival then moved to the Brooklyn Museum of Art for five years, and later to the Brooklyn Heights Cinema. “Over the years, I kept hear-ing that this or that guy was going to build a theater in Williamsburg, but nothing came of it. Finally, I knew if I wanted to bring the festival back to Williamsburg, I had to do it myself.”
Last June, Ursino brought the film festival back to his beloved Williamsburg, in his very own theater. The 13th Brooklyn International Film Festival received over 2,400 entries from 97 countries. Over 100 selected films where shown. This year’s 14th festival will be held from June 3rd to June 12th at indieScreen and Brooklyn Heights Cinema. Ursino and his business partners are planning the grand opening of indieScreen in the next few months.
Popermhem, who owned the now closed Planet Thailand, says she’s waiting for the liquor license. “It has already been approved. Once I get it, we’ll open the restaurant for dinner. Our hours will correspond with the hours of the theater. We’ll open a couple of hours before the first showing, so people can have dinner before the movie. We’ll also provide a lot of appetizers and snack foods so diners can bring them into the theater and share.”
Like Planet Thailand, the menu will be mostly authentic Asian with a few eclectic fusion dishes, but the menu can be customized for festivals and private parties. “It can be Italian, American, whatever the client wants,” she says.
2011 may be a great year for Ursino, as he may have found a distributor for his first full-length feature film, “Clouds of Magellan.” “It took me four years to make that film,” he confesses. Ursino says running the theater and the festival keep him quite busy, but he still manages to find time to devote to filmmaking. You can see some of his work by checking out his creative promotional shorts for the Brooklyn Film Festival on YouTube.
This is one of those good old-fashioned American-dream-come-true stories. If Usrino can find a way to toss in two or three jilted starlet girlfriends, a couple of Russian mobsters, and a near bankruptcy, it would have the makings of a very good Hollywood blockbuster. It will probably be called “On the Waterfront 2015” and it’ll be in so much demand that we’ll all have to catch it at that hotly rumored 850-seat multiplex on Grand and Driggs that some big-shot developers are going to build any day now.