Brett Bossard

Ithaca’s cinematic landscape has been changing and evolving lately. Cinemapolis Executive Director Brett Bossard is leaving the art-house non-profit theater after a nine-year stint, for a new gig at his alma mater Ithaca College as Executive Director of Alumni and Family Engagement. This comes on the heels of Cornell Cinema Director Mary Fessenden retiring after 35 years. It’s been quite a long time since Bossard was an IC undergrad, coming down the hill to see “Slacker” (1991) and “Dazed and Confused” (1993) back at the old Cinemapolis in Home Dairy Alley. Bossard spoke to the Ithaca Times about the ups and downs of almost a decade in the indie film business.

Ithaca Times: Nine years is a piece of time. Since we last spoke for Cinemapolis’s 30th anniversary in 2016, two big things that have happened since then. First there was the pandemic.

Brett Bossard: Yeah. [laughs] Yes.

IT: Can you even talk about that in the past tense?

BB: Yeah, I think we can say we’re on the other side of it.

IT: What was that whole experience like?

BB: Certainly unexpected. Nobody ever plans for that. I think it was really encouraging how quickly the community responded, to support us and to make sure that we knew that they’d be here for us when we were able to open the doors again. Just in that first four weeks from when we closed back in March of 2020, I think we got over a hundred new members who just immediately showered us with support and said, “We wanna make sure you stick around.” And I think it helped that we made it very clear that we were gonna keep the staff on the payroll during the closure. We’re a living-wage employer, and that was really important to me and the board, to make sure that everybody was able to remain whole during the closure. That was harrowing. It was kind of like my version of a capitol campaign for the cinema, because of other COVID relief grants, and of course, the big new operator’s grant that the Federal government made available to movie theaters and performing arts centers. It amounted to about three-quarters of a million dollars that we had to raise in the course of the 65 weeks we were closed. But who’s counting? [laughs]

IT: That was the introduction of your virtual model.

BB: Yeah, that was just a nice confluence of theaters that were willing to change the way we thought about things, and distributors, really. It was key that the indie distributors were able to be nimble and adjust practices. In many cases, these were films that they already had plans to do a theatrical release for, and they were sorta stuck. They had to do something with these films, they’d acquired and paid for them and spent some money on marketing them, so they really had to find a way to find an audience for them. That seemed like a perfect fit for keeping us going during what was a potentially very dark time for film exhibition. [laughs]

IT: And the theater has been renovated, post-COVID.

BB: We had plans to do some renovations anyway, so we took the opportunity while we were closed to do them. We completely renovated the bathrooms, adding new hands-free fixtures, a fresh coat of paint and new countertops. Just to reopen, we had to make changes in the way the ventilation in the cinema was handled, we changed the filtration. We started public screenings back up in June of 2021, and we just in the last month went back to full capacity screenings. That was more than a year of operating with limits in place.

IT: The other big change is that for the first time, movies can play at Regal and Cinemapolis. What has it been like, factoring more mainstream titles like “Elvis” and “Nope” into the mix?

BB: I think the industry has just changed immensely, particularly since the pandemic, but even before that. Many distributors were doing away with what they called “zone clearances” for their films, so they were booking films at any theater that would buy them, basically. Films like “Nope” and “Elvis” and “Three Thousand Years of Longing” fit our audience, and we can provide an opportunity for our audience to see a film without going up the hill. We’re not creating a danger for Regal, let’s put it that way.

IT: What were some big recent hits?

BB: Well, certainly “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was a tremendous success for us. We opened it in early April, and we played it for 15 or 16 weeks. Now, granted, in other metropolitan areas in upstate New York, they have multiple movie theaters that would have been playing that film, but pretty much from Syracuse to Buffalo, Cinemapolis was the top-selling theater for that film. We sold more tickets than anyone else. It hit a  lot of sweet spots, both students and otherwise. I thought it was a great movie, and to see it accepted with such fervor among our audience was really gratifying.

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