It's somehow appropriate that when we meet up with Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque director John Ewing as he's walking to the Cinematheque's new high-tech home, he's carrying a couple of 16-mm projectors. As much as Ewing is pleased to be moving to a "handsome" high-tech facility that features a 4 K projector, 7.1 Surround Sound (the folks at internationally renowned Boston Light & Sound installed the system) and plush seats, he can still look back fondly on the Cinematheque's twentysomething-year run in Aitken Auditorium.
"We had a great run and that auditorium served us well," says Ewing one afternoon from the confines of the plush new Peter B. Lewis Theatre where the Cinematheque will start screening films this weekend. "I can remember first discovering that auditorium sometime around 1983. I had to convince Joe McCullough, who was the president of Institute at the time, to let us use it on weekends. I was charged with trying to find a location for the Cleveland Cinematheque which is something that George Gund thought the city should have and was willing to support. I looked at a theater on West 44th and Lorain. I think it was an old porn theater. I probably should have gotten into the neighborhood. but back then, that was not a good neighborhood."
As much as the theater represents a major upgrade — it's the equivalent of trading in a Yugo for a Porsche — Ewing anticipates the programming won't change much. The Cinematheque will continue to show an assortment of recently restored movies and first-run features that wouldn't come to Cleveland if the Cinematheque didn't bring them here.
"The idea behind the Cinematheque is twofold," Ewing says. "We want to show new international films and independent films, just new films that would not play in the city otherwise. I want to have the capability to show touring film retrospectives that travel across the country. Those are some of the rarest and most interesting movies available. It killed me that I used to have to go to Chicago or New York to see them. I really want to bring those programs to Cleveland. We started doing that right off the bat. We're not trying to make money. We just want to break even."
The Cinematheque will officially launch a new era on Aug. 7 with a screening of an old film: the Humphrey Bogart classic Casablanca, which was chosen by an audience vote. In fitting fashion, the movie will screen from 35 mm at 7 p.m.; at 9:15, it will show digitally in DCP, the new digital cinema standard.