BMFI offers a rare movie experience, student opportunities

By Diana Campeggio
March 23, 2011

Positioned along Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr stands a 1920’s era movie theater with a vintage façade on the outside and a superb selection of movies and events on the inside. Bryn Mawr Film Institute, or BMFI, offers a unique experience to the Main Line community that is unlike any you will find in a traditional megaplex, with special opportunities for students.

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute located on the Main Line offers a variety of events and attractions.

“In general, there is better care paid towards the movies,” Andrew Douglas, director of education at BMFI and lecturer in English at Cabrini, said.

The most obvious difference between BMFI and other theaters is the movie selection. Though only showing a few movies a night, it offers a wide array of main attractions, including documentaries, independent and international films, Oscar nominees and art house hits.

BMFI also offers a wide selection of one night only events such as classic movies restored in high definition, filmmaker and animator appearances, operas, concerts presented by Philadelphia Orchestra and dance and theatrical productions.

“We try to have a very eclectic mix,” Valerie Temple, programming and community outreach for BMFI, said. “There is something for everyone.”

According to Douglas, other theaters need to continually make a profit and support their bottom line, but BMFI tries to come up with events that are interesting to the staff and what they think will be interesting to the community.

“It’s not going to make us a lot of money,” Douglas said, “but we’re a nonprofit so we just need to make enough to survive.”

BMFI also offers an extensive film education program that offers classes on everything from actors and directors to genres and authors.

“We hope to bring community together through film and we want to educate about and through film,” Douglas said. “We want to be the cultural engine that revs people up.”

According to Devin Wachs, public relations coordinator, community partners, such as Cabrini, use the education program at Bryn Mawr to complement what they are teaching in the classroom. For other partners, it is a way to socialize outside of the classroom or workplace.

“Movies are a great way to bring people together, a great way to function as that third space,” Douglas said.

Several departments at Cabrini have used the facilities at BMFI for these reasons, including the English and graphic design departments and faculty events.

“So there’s the organizational element that we are reaching out to other organizations and there is the personal element where it brings different insight and points of view through these films to the Main Line,” Wach said.

BMFI also provides a great amount of discounts and opportunities for students from all schools in the area. Student tickets are only $7.

“We’re an art house but we also try and mix it up and show students what we think they would like to see,” Douglas said.

The history of BMFI is a laundry list of changing hands over the years. In 1926, the theater was known as the Seville and was built with a Spanish vibe and only one screen. According to Douglas, it was one of the six theaters that used to dot the Main Line.

“I wouldn’t call it a movie palace exactly, but it certainly has some of the stylistic elements of that period, where going to the movies was really a destination and an event,” Wach said.

Throughout the years, the theater has changed hands several times, but continued to remain a theater. United Artist, who had been leasing the theater, made the decision to sell the building.

The theater was then going to be turned into a fitness club franchise, which is when Julia Goodfriend, a local to the community, stepped in.

Goodfriend brought the community together to raise enough money to buy the theater, and renovate it from the ground up.

“There’s a lot of really beautiful details that have been preserved, although a lot has been lost,” Wachs said. “We are trying to bring it back to its original glory.”

In March 2005, BMFI opened its doors to the Main Line, with actor Ben Kingsley cutting the grand opening ribbon.

“For some people, this is just another listing on, or whatever,” Douglas said. “But a lot of people who come to see the building are surprised to see we show movies everyday.”

BMFI brings an element of the arts to the Main Line, which might otherwise only have been found in the city.

“Rather than have someone go into Center City, they can have access to some of the best world cinema right here, which is huge,” Wach said. “It’s about making it available to the audience here in a way that it might not otherwise be.”

For a schedule of events and movie times visit BMFI’s website, where tickets can also be preordered.

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Diana Campeggio

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