Guest Columnist

The Midwest's best movie experience: Another victim of COVID-19?

on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)FilmScene at The Chauncey in Iowa City on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (
on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)FilmScene at The Chauncey in Iowa City on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

I miss the power of a crowded theater.

Last year, in September of 2019, FilmScene’s state-of-the-art theater opened in the newly constructed Chauncey building in downtown Iowa City. To celebrate the occasion, I brought my family, decked out in 1920s themed-apparel, for a cocktail party and the premiere of the Downton Abbey movie. As we gathered, every chair filled with eager moviegoers, a photographer at the front snapped a shot of the completely packed theater. There was a lot of joy in the room that night. When I look at the photo now, I can see my family in the middle of the frame, our spirits buoyed by cider and Champagne, clutching warm tubs of popcorn, and beaming with glee as we wait for the lights to dim and the film to start.

That is an experience I want to have again. Something I want to share with others.

Since 2018, I have served on FilmScene’s board of directors because I want to do my part to help bring a world-class art house cinema to Iowa City. Growing up in Los Angeles, I was never far from the genesis of great filmmaking. Iowa has an incredible filmmaking tradition in its own right, but before FilmScene, many of these great movies were never seen in our state. I wanted to bring that little bit of Hollywood back to Iowa with me and share it with like-minded Hawkeyes.

FilmScene is one of the best movie experiences in light, sound and comfort anywhere in the Midwest. I’m proud of the work this organization has completed in just a few years since it was founded. Building a world-class cinema is difficult and expensive. But we did it. Here, in Iowa City. Keeping it, however, especially during this eruptive time, is another challenge.

We are in the closing act of the SGE Campaign. The incredible generosity and enthusiasm of our community has generated over $5 million in pledges. We cannot stop now, especially this close to completing the work we set out to do. By raising the final $1 million, we will ensure that FilmScene and The Englert are able to complete preservation and expansion projects while also being able to meet the moment by adapting to our new socially-distanced reality.

The devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental to our lives and to our local economy in so many ways. The Englert and FilmScene, essential pillars of the Iowa City arts community, have been closed since March 2020 and will remain closed indefinitely. As a community, the onus is on us to ensure that when it is safe to gather together these landmark theaters and the talented staff they employ will be ready for us once again.

For this to happen, we must rally, as friends and neighbors and an arts-loving community, to help these organizations reach the $6 million goal. My family has made a contribution and I am asking you to consider making one as well. You can make a donation, an investment in the future of Iowa City, at strengthengrowevolve.org.

I want to sit in a theater with my family, popcorn in hand, waiting for the lights to dim and the magic to start. I have a feeling you do, too. Together, we can make sure that happens.

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Hans House is a Professor of emergency medicine at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. An avid moviegoer and dedicated arts supporter, he serves as the Chair of FilmScene’s board of directors. He lives in Iowa City with his family.

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