Reel Deal

Talking with Peggy Johnson about the Loft Cinema's summer makeover

Peggy Johnson is the executive director of the Loft Cinema Foundation, the nonprofit that runs the Loft Theater. The Loft is getting a major makeover this summer with a renovation of the main auditorium that will bring in new, more comfortable seating along with other improvements. Johnson recently discussed what's happening at the Loft on the radio edition of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel, which airs Sunday afternoons at 5 p.m. on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM. This Q&A is a condensed and edited version of that conversation.

You're doing a major makeover in the main auditorium of the Loft. You still have movies going on in your upstairs theater and on the relatively new screen next door to the big screen, so we don't want people thinking that you're closed for business. But before we get into this summer's programming, let's start with the work you're doing with the main auditorium.

This has been a long time coming, and we're so excited it's happening now. What we're doing is really just bringing that big screen—the big theater that everybody loves so much—up-to-date. It's going to have stadium seating in the back. It's going to have more aisles. It's going to have new comfortable seats. It's going to have better sight lines. It has to be fully accessible, which has been such a priority, and it's just really a long time coming. There will be other advantages along the way. We're going to upgrade the sound a little bit, and we're going to upgrade the air conditioning system. You know, little things like that, so it'll be totally a modern space.

How old were those seats in there?

I think they were from the late '60s, but I don't have verifiable proof of that. The guys who took them out said that the manufacturer had not been in business since the '60s, so I think it's a pretty good guess.

You had 50-year-old seats inside that theater?

You think it was time to replace them? Maybe, huh?

You'll have aisles and stadium seating, so you'll have fewer seats than you did before, but in general a much better experience for the folks who are going to come in and plop their butts down in those seats.

Exactly, some happy butts. I have one customer who keeps telling me, "I'm so tired of sitting on coat hangers." So that's not going to be the situation anymore. We will have fewer seats, but it'll be a better experience. For those people—which I'm sure is a lot—who've been in there when we've had 500 people in there, that's a lot of people in that space.

The project is slated for completion around mid-July?

That's the hope. You know how construction is.

So you have about two months of working on some alternative programming, and for the rest of this month, you're celebrating the work of Mel Brooks at the Tucson Jewish Community Center with Blazing Saddles on Wednesday, May 24 and Spaceballs on Sunday, May 28.

It was something we'd suggested to the JCC to partner on, and they thought it was a good idea too. We do a series every month that honors a filmmaker or somebody in the film industry. We hadn't done Mel Brooks. We suggested it to the JCC, and they thought it was the perfect director to partner on.

And you also have some outdoor screenings taking place at the Loft. You've got an inflatable screen and you're going to set up chairs in the parking lot. Sounds like that's also going to be a really nice way for folks to sit outside and see some of these movies: "Back to the Future", "Selena", a cat video festival, the First Friday shorts out there. Talk a little about what folks can expect to see out there in the parking lot.

The screen is great. We bought a van, and it has solar panels on the roof, and it's lined with batteries so it's a solar-powered system. We blow up the inflatable screen and run the projector and sound and all the other equipment off solar energy. The Loft was the first American member of an international solar mobile cinema network, which I met along the way at some of the festivals. We're just super excited about being able to promote alternative energy, and also just to be able to take the films literally anywhere. We don't need electricity; we don't need a plug. So it's really a super cool project. We're going to have some screenings in the Loft parking lot on the north side of the building, and a little bit of everything. We're starting off with the film "Twister", and it's going to be one of our Science on Screen films which is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Then you're also going to be headed downtown to the Rialto Theater for the traditional Found Footage Festival on Saturday, May 27. What is the Found Footage Festival?

I have to say I think it's one of the favorite things we do for the staff, because it is just so much fun. So it's Nick and Joe, and they write for well-known comedy shows, and they put together a show that they tour. I think we've had them three or four times, and it's footage that they have found—old VHS tapes mostly—and they just go through these tapes, and find the silliest, goofiest, funniest, crazy things. They weave them together, and they do kind of stand-up comedy around these clips.

Correction: This article originally noted that KGUN-9 meteorologist Erin Christianson would be attending the Twister screening. She will not.
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