For more than 30 years the Screening Room brought the Tucson community together through independent film festivals and events – the Arizona International Film Festival, Arizona Underground Film Festival, Terrorfest and Keep Tucson Sketchy comedy show to name a few. Now suffering from the pandemic like many others, the downtown theater is facing the struggle to survive.
“It’s paying the bills. It’s paying on loans, electricity, water and the rent that is due,” Pike said.
Since they closed in March, the Screening Room has hosted several online screenings. However, Pike said these did not generate the money needed to sustain the theater.
“When we have a movie in the theater, usually people will come in, get beer, get popcorn - the whole thing. That is what pays the bills,” Pike said.
While Arizona Gov. Doug Doucey’s 30 day order to close down bars, gyms and movie theaters is coming to an end on July 27, Pike says there’s no timeline when people will feel safe to reopen. Pike remarks he would love to reopen sooner than later, but knows that he will need to invest in safety measures first.
So far the GoFundMe has raised over $4,000. The goal is to reach $10,000.
“By reaching this amount it will ensure us that we can actually pay the bills pretty much for the rest of the year or longer,” Pike said. “Then we can actually hopefully safely open when it's time to safely open."
Giulio Scalinger is the Arizona International Film Festival’s director and opened The Screening Room in 1989. Both the festival and The Screening Room were projects of the Arizona Media Arts Center.
“When the Screening Room started it was created to give local filmmakers a place to show their films,” Scalinger said. “In those days when you had a local film there was no place to show it, so that was the sort of push to create a space for local filmmakers.”
According to Scalinger, after the Arizona International Film Festival started to grow larger, the Arts Center eventually decided to lease out The Screening Room to be developed by Outsider Cinema LLC, which Pike owned in 2018.
Still, Scalinger says the festival enjoys going back to their roots.
“We used other sites, but the bulk of the work gets shown at the Screening Room,” he said. “The beauty of the Screening Room is that it's a very intimate auditorium and filmmakers just love that because they can really talk to their audience… A lot of filmmakers who have shown their films at The Screening Room have written back to me saying, ‘That’s the best screening I ever had.’”
To Scalinger, the venue has become the “focal point” for independent films. He says the loss of The Screening Room will not only impact local filmmakers, but also the community as a whole.
“Many, many, many years ago downtown had many movie theaters and they all shut down and went to the suburbs. When the Screening Room reopened 1989, that brought films back to Congress St.” Scalinger said. “Fox Theatre is still there and has shown some films, but is mainly there for performances. We wouldn’t want a downtown developing, building all these apartments where we don’t even have a movie theater that can show some work. “
Last November, Scalinger said it was a defining moment for him when The Screening Room had celebrated 30 years. A staff member had collected past reviews from various newspapers and created a montage to show him.
“It sort of hit me then how much we’ve done and how many people we’ve reached,” he said.
Scalinger said the theater has really evolved as Pike expanded beyond filmmakers and now more open to comedians, poetry slam artists, musicians and community organizations.
One of the founders of Keep Tucson Sketchy comedy show, Joel Foster, says the accessibility of the venue is unmatched.
“If they’re gone, there’s not another independent movie theater like them and performers are left with less places to perform,” Foster said. “I think we would be missing a huge piece of downtown.”
Keep Tucson Sketchy is showing their support by sharing The Screening Room’s GoFundMe on social media and will be giving the theater their proceeds from their live online show scheduled on August 22.
“It’s in our best interest to keep it going, and David’s a friend and I want him to hold on to what he’s got. He has a lot of great ideas on what to do, and he’s very passionate about film,” Foster said.“I think we all gotta stay afloat and do what we can to get on the other side of this.”
Pike is looking to hopefully reopen with small screening rentals in the future and will still do some online screenings to keep The Screening Room alive in the community.
“From my second year running last year, it was taking off. Now the virus, I really don’t want to lose the momentum,” he said. “I really want people to still think about us and when the virus is essentially done or whatever so that we can continue.”
Over 30 years of people coming in to premiere their films and to rent the space, Pike says the Screening Room has always been for the community.
“It’s Tucson’s theater, that’s how I see it,” Pike said. “The theater is the community’s and that’s what I like about it.”