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Save the Isis campaign set

Janet Urquhart

Coming soon for a theater near you: Save The Isis bumper stickers.

Aspen Filmfest, which has found a home for its film screenings at Aspen’s Isis Theatre for two decades, will be distributing the bumper stickers starting Monday, as it kicks off its 10th annual academy screenings at Harris Concert Hall.

The longtime theater’s abrupt closure last week and rampant speculation about the building’s possible renovation into high-end boutiques have Aspenites worked up about what they can do to save the movie house, according to Lynda Palevsky, president of the Aspen Filmfest board of directors.

“We’re getting calls all the time from people saying, `What can we do?’ We need to rally the community to make sure that theater doesn’t disappear,” she said.

Hence the bumper stickers, which will be available at the academy screenings and Filmfest’s office in the Red Brick Arts and Recreation Center.

City officials, meanwhile, are researching the approvals Aspen granted to allow the mammoth renovation of the historic theater to accommodate a five-screen cinema with residences on the third floor. The redeveloped Isis opened a year ago after two years of construction.

City Council members have voiced an interest in sitting down with the theater’s owners to discuss the building’s fate. First, though, they’ll receive a report from staffers on the approvals the city gave, and any concessions the council and its boards made, to foster the redevelopment of the Hopkins Avenue property as a theater rather than some other use. The report will also outline the city’s options, according to City Manager Steve Barwick.

Barwick said he expects that report to be ready sometime next week.

The Isis shut down last Thursday after Resort Theaters of America, which managed the Isis, decided to pull out of Aspen. RTA filed for bankruptcy in October and had been attempting to renegotiate its lease for the Aspen theater, according to RTA officials.

RTA has already removed the projectors, screens and sound system from the theater.

“Filmfest is obviously very concerned, especially to hear it’s being dismantled so quickly,” said Laura Thielen, executive director. “The Isis has always been the home for Filmfest. The Isis was the heart and soul of Filmfest for 20 years.”

Dominic and Kitty Linza, who had owned and operated the old, one-screen Isis since the mid-1960s, bowed out and sold the establishment in 1998. “We’re very sad to hear that it’s closing,” Kitty said yesterday.

Filmfest worked closely with the Linzas and then RTA to make use of the Isis for its annual September Filmfest and April Shortsfest, Thielen said.

Filmfest also debuted its Screen Club program at the Isis last month, showing “Not of This World,” an Italian film. The next Screen Club offering was scheduled in January at the theater.

If the owners of the Isis do not contract with a new theater operator and the facility is converted to some other use or sits vacant, Filmfest will face a tough challenge in finding alternative venues that work as well as the Isis, Thielen said.

“For us, for Shortsfest, it really does impact what we’re going to do,” she said.

Sam Houston, representing Isis LLC, the building’s current owners, appeared committed to the long-term operation of the theater and a continuing relationship with Filmfest when plans for redevelopment of the Isis under new ownership were under way.

In a 1995 letter to the Linzas, Houston said an institution like the Isis should be preserved, and that he was excited about the prospect of helping save the theater from being converted to pricey retail stores or T-shirt shops.

Houston could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Aspen has another commercial cinema, Stage 3 Theatres, operated by Carmike Cinemas. Filmfest has inquired about use of those screens in the past, but received no response from Carmike’s Colorado Springs office, according to Thielen.

The Wheeler Opera House can also be used for screenings when it is not booked for performances, and Harris Concert Hall is regularly used for the annual academy screenings, Thielen said.

“The Isis is a natural home for the things we do,” she added. “It is first and foremost a movie house, not a live performance space.

“We hope the city and the owners of the building will do everything to maintain a screen presence in the community,” Thielen continued. “It’s a blow to Filmfest, but I think it’s a bigger blow to the community.”


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