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Fort Lee's Barrymore Theater Showcasing Local, International Cinema

Part of the programming in the future Barrymore Film Center will involve Alice Guy-Blanché, who was a pioneering director, gender notwithstanding. She's shown here in her Solax Studio, in Fort Lee, with her crew in the 1910s. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tom Meyers
Here's a conceptual rendering of the completed Barrymore Theater's interior. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tom Meyers
Construction for the Barrymore Film Center won't begin until late this year, but work on its programming has already begun. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tom Meyers

FORT LEE, N.J. -- Fort Lee was home to one of the first families of film a century ago, and the Barrymore Film Center will pay homage to those actors and many others who established the industry on the East Coast.

And while the center is still over a year from opening, its creators are already hard at work determining its future.

"You can't build a facility and then think of programming," Tom Meyers, executive director of the Fort Lee Film Commission, told Daily Voice.

"It'll be a place where we're screening films from emerging filmmakers, our own film festivals and taking ones in from around the world," he explained.

The film center, which will be located on the corner of Park and Main, will house a 250-seat cinema on the ground floor and a film museum on the second floor. The borough will own the center and its land, and the Film Commission -- one of its departments -- will operate it.

The center was part of a developers agreement for the massive residential complex The Modern. Once the second tower of the complex is complete, presumably in late 2017, there will be a groundbreaking for the film center, Meyers explained.

"It'll take 14 months from the shovel in the ground to completion," he added.

The Fort Lee Film Commission already has good relationships with festivals in the tri-state area, Meyers said. He believes these will translate into audiences at the new center from New York City and beyond, as it hosts a variety of its own film festivals, including

  • a Reel Jersey Girl Film Festival, to showcase emerging women filmmakers and to screen the films of the first woman director and studio owner in world cinema history, Alice Guy-Blaché, who built, owned and operated Solax Studio, on Lemoine Avenue;
  • a yearly African American film festival, which will include emerging African American filmmakers and a screening of the films produced and directed in Fort Lee by African American cinema pioneer Oscar Micheaux; and
  • a yearly South Korean film festival to showcase great Korean filmmakers and celebrate the culture of the local Asian community.

The broad range of films shown will also include silent films with live music, including films shot in Fort Lee, Meyers said, as well as foreign films and classic retrospective American films.

The second-floor museum will also host the commission's film archive. "We already have a lot of researchers from around the world doing research into our archive," Meyers said. "It'll be a resource for anybody."

The borough also hopes to have a sister relationship with theater in Queens, the Museum of the Moving Image, which Meyers called one of the premier film museums in the country.

"They do fantastic exhibits," he said. "Their space was a former studio in Queens. They have active studios around them, but that was the studio space of Paramount Pictures in the 1920s. We want to partner with them in terms of our exhibit space."

For more information about the commission and its work, visit its website or Facebook page.

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