Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Juliet Goodfriend |

Interview :: Juliet Goodfriend
by Ruth Weisberg, 3 Apr 2006

This month's Creative Personality is Juliet Goodfriend, Founding President of the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, (BMFI) a non-profit film education and exhibition center in the historic and renovated Bryn Mawr Movie Theater on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr. To contact Juliet Goodfriend or to learn more about BMFI film courses, community events, film discussions, special screenings and workshops:

PCG: The Bryn Mawr Film Institute is like Extreme Makeover: Moviehouse Edition. This is some epic production. How and why did you get so involved?

JG: If I think something should be done, I do everything in my power to get it done. I become consumed with passion for a project I care about. I rarely take 'no' for an answer. I have high energy and confidence in my ideas and goals. Plus, I liked going to the movies and didn't want this historic move theater in the heart of Bryn Mawr to become another fitness club, as has happened to other moviehouses.

PCG: What in your background prepared you for this venture?

JG: I don't even have a film background. I'm the retired founder and CEO of a large custom marketing research firm serving the pharmaceutical industry. When I had my own company, I served on the boards of several non-profit groups, which became good sources for networking and connections. I sold my company around the same time I embraced this movie project. The community got behind the mission to save and preserve this historic theater. Starting any kind of business is a creative endeavor.

"Our core mission is to strengthen our community by providing a place where diverse segments can meet, learn, share ideas, and develop talents and understanding--via film."

PCG: So how'd you do it?

JG: We formed a non-profit organization and bought the theater. The BMFI was formed in 2002 by the area's leaders in academia, business and civic involvement. We bought the former Bryn Mawr II moviehouse in 2004 for about $2 million. In 2005 we spent an additional $1million to repair it and renovate parts of it, such as the Café Seville, the lobby, and the new marquee. We are now raising the money to begin Phase Two which will cost $2 million more and will restore the historic glass atrium and the second floor. With about $7 million in restorations and renovations, our existing and upcoming projects keep growing in complexity and community support. The BMFI is an exceptionally creative outlet for the community. I'm here at the beginning, crafting it and helping to actualize our vision and goals. From screenings to film courses to discussion groups to workshops, we want the entire movie experience to be special.

PCG: Considering the age and condition of this historic 1920's era moviehouse, you certainly had your work cut out for you.

JG: Did we ever. It was a dingy dungeon. We made extensive renovations and upgrades to the projection and sound equipment. We got our heating and electrical systems up to code. The lobby was refurbished, and in March of 2005, the theater re-opened to the public with Sir Ben Kingsley cutting the "ribbon" of 35mm film. One year later in March '06, we installed our new theater marquee. The art deco letters and the label boards are in keeping with the era of the theater's 1920's origin.

Other projects in the works are to restore and convert the vacant second floor into multimedia-use classrooms and extra community meeting space. Other renovations are to restore the glass skylight over the atrium. A local historian dug up the building's original plans and realized it was there. For many years, it had been covered over by a drop ceiling.

Left: The Seville Theater (Circa 1926); Right: Architect's rendering of the new marquee installed (March 2006)

PCG: In addition to all the architectural flourishes, you also put the 'community' in your outreach and programming here.

JG: Our core mission is to strengthen our community by providing a place where diverse segments can meet, learn, share ideas, and develop talents and understanding--via film. We show the best in independent, documentary, art, foreign and repertory films, educational series, and community film events.

We hosted a pilot program, originally developed by the Jacob Burns Film Center in New York, in 'visual literacy' to 3rd graders in the Norristown Area School District. Over a 2-day period, over 80 students came here to watch several short films, discuss them, and then write about or draw their impressions of that experience. Then they returned to their classrooms for four more units of the program. Our other Community Partners with BMFI include other schools and faith groups. Café Seville, our adjoining coffeehouse, is always brewing with film discussion groups.

PCG: What other coming attractions should film enthusiasts be on the lookout for?

JG: There's our new monthly discussion group, 'Inside the Characters,' which examines a particular film's characters and is moderated by member of the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. The first Monday of every month we invite local filmmakers to show excepts or their completed film projects up there on the big screen and have it critiqued by fellow filmmakers, film critics and film buffs. The event is free and open to the public, too. Our weekly Cinematheque series screens indie films, classics, or documentaries, often with the filmmakers present.

This summer we'll be offering Hollywood summer classics. We have film clubs for schoolchildren, and this summer we'll have movie camp, which is like a cinematic version of a community book club. We have a youth advisory board, where students from local schools advise us with feedback and ideas about improving the movie-going experience for them.

As for the moviehouse itself, we have better sound, projection, better parking and viewer loyalty than at other moviehouses.

We're also looking into being able to screen Oscar-nominated animated features and documentaries. Of course, that all hinges on collaborating with movie distributors.

PCG: Speaking of the Oscars, have you ever been to the Academy Awards?

JG: No. Well, not yet, anyway.

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