From staff reports
The Athena Cinema, now under the management of the College of Fine Arts at Ohio University, will launch a new, art-infused format beginning Sept. 19.
The Athena will continue to serve the public under the college's stewardship, with a goal of becoming the premier art-house cinema in southeast Ohio. The theater will focus exclusively on contemporary independent films, world cinema and select documentaries.
The new season
The 18,600-square-foot theater will run films on all three of its screens. Showings will start at 4 p.m. weekdays and 1 p.m. on weekends, with two evening showings around the 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. hours.
Ticket prices will be $5 for afternoon shows and $6.50 for evening shows ($5.50 for those under 12 or over 60); tickets can be purchased at the Athena. Arts for Ohio will provide free admission to Ohio University students for all Cinematheque Series shows and during the Athens International Film + Video Festival.
"The Athena's new focus offers a great opportunity for students, community members and people from the region to see films right here in Athens that you'd have to drive to Columbus to catch," Athena Executive Director Ruth Bradley said.
The season will open with:
- "Vicky Christina Barcelona," the new romantic comedy by Woody Allen
- "Tell No One," a highly acclaimed French thriller from director Guillaume Canet
- "Man on Wire," a stunning new documentary about the illegal, high-wire act performed between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.
College as manager
The College of Fine Arts was a natural choice for the theater's management for multiple reasons, Dean Charles McWeeny said.
First, the venture fits with the college's mission and related successes, such as the Athens Center for Film and Video, Athens International Film + Video Festival, School of Film and acclaimed Wide Angle film journal.
"Bringing the Athena under our umbrella marks a significant step towards an initiative to integrate arts into the intellectual and cultural fabric of the university and the community," McWeeny said. "This is a major goal of the college."
Plus, the college already has a significant relationship with the venue.
"For the past 35 years, the Athena Cinema has been home to the International Film + Video Festival, a College of Fine Arts event," said Bradley, who also directs the festival. "We want to extend the energy of the film festival throughout the entire year. And we can provide unique extras."
For instance, the public will have access to bonus materials on a new Web site set to go live Sept. 18.
"We see our Web site as a portal into film culture where film-lovers can more fully engage in a current dialogue about the movies. We hope to incorporate more in-depth reviews of our featured films as well as original critiques and reader responses -- and maybe video clips later on," said Chris Iacofano, the new general manager of the theater.
Finally, the theater affords hands-on experience for students along with a paycheck. Alongside Bradley and Iacofano, some eight students will work at the theater and get a taste of commercial theater management, including running the concession with logistical assistance from Dining Services.
Deciding the future
In 2001, the Athena -- in operation since 1915 -- went up for sale, but no buyer showed interest in operating it as a cinema. The owner contacted Ohio University, which stepped in to save the uptown icon and restore its luster. The theater reopened in February 2002.
Since then, Ohio University has contracted with an independent manager to operate the theater. When the lease was nearing expiration, a committee formed to explore options for the theater and its place within the university mission. The group worked with clusters of business students, who added perspective and a storehouse of improvement ideas.
Students and committee members were of one mind on two key decisions: They wanted to see the Athena continue as a movie theater, and they agreed the College of Fine Arts should run it. Other recommendations included improving marketing, exploring linkages to the academic enterprise, connecting with more students, co-promoting with uptown businesses, looking at new programming that has community appeal and giving the theater a different niche than other local movie houses.
Bradley said she hopes to keep business students engaged in ensuring the theater's success.
"One way we hope to collaborate is to work with the Sales Centre," Bradley said. Details are still evolving, but the Sales Centre's initial response was "very enthusiastic," she said.
Kenneth Hartung, executive director of the Ralph and Luci Schey Sales Centre, expects that some sales certificate candidates will jump at the chance to complete their required 300-hour internship through the Athena.
"This can be a great opportunity for one of our candidates, particularly in media and advertising sales," Hartung said. "Currently, we are talking about how to put together a job description and get it out to our students."
A community treasure
Local merchants are pleased that the Athena is here to stay and open to partnerships, according to Leslie Schaller, chairwoman of the Athens Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
"What's more iconic of small-town charm than the movie theater marquee? And our wonderful Athena Cinema is no exception. Marketing collaborations between the Athena and uptown merchants will aid in bringing people uptown to enjoy a movie, shopping and unique dining experiences."
Bradley believes the theater will continue extending another simple pleasure to the Athens community.
"We still think there's there a great benefit to seeing art in a public space with other people. You all laugh together and cry together and come away with a great, shared experience."
Film information and show times are available at 740-592-5106 and, starting Sept. 18, at www.athenacinema.com.
To speak to a media representative about this story, contact College of Fine Arts Director of Communications and Marketing Amy Wells at 740-597-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.