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An era ends at the Coolidge

Posted by Ty Burr  July 8, 2008 11:29 AM

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Executive Director Joe Zina is leaving the Coolidge Corner Theatre at the end of the year, and a new chapter in one of the few remaining Art Deco moviegoing jewels will begin.

From the press release: "After an incredibly active and prolific 10-year career as the Executive Director of the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation, Joe Zina will be stepping down from his position at the end of the year. Zina, who was previously on the Board of Directors at the theater and took the position of Executive Director in 1998, will be moving on to pursue personal artistic projects including consulting with community cultural centers on dance and film. During the past ten years, Zina initiated and oversaw extensive upgrades and renovations to the theater which included a stunning restoration to the original Art Deco details of the historic cultural landmark. During this period the Coolidge launched a successful $2.5 million capital campaign and expanded capabilities for live performance and community programs in the two main auditoriums. Included were the installation of new Dolby digital surround sound systems and two renovated stages. In May of 2002, the theatre made the first public announcement of the renovations and capital campaign with the unveiling of the award-winning art-deco-style marquee, a celebration which drew thousands of participants and sparked a revitalization of the Coolidge Corner business community."

All true and still not quite getting to the heart of the matter. The Coolidge, once upon a time a cherished neighborhood movie theater, then a classic revival house, then a hulk that came this close to the wrecking ball, is now a Boston institution -- one of the rare picture palaces that has made the transition to art-house success with its big screen mostly intact. (Here's the theater's Cinema Treasures entry, plus the history page at the Coolidge's website.)

Even better, it has thrived, anchoring not just Coolidge Corner but the Boston independent scene (along with the comparatively battered Brattle). Zina has had everything to do with this, bringing the energy of a former dancer and the people skills of a born macher to raising the Coolidge's profile and financial base.

When he arrived, the Coolidge was $350,000 in the hole and wasn't making its rent. In the years since, attendance has steadily climbed (against a downward national trend) and membership is through the roof. Without Zina and the people he has hired, would there have been a Coolidge Award bringing Meryl Streep and Thelma Schoonmaker to town? Not likely. Is there anywhere else in town you can see "Lawrence of Arabia" -- last night's offering -- in the 70mm splendor it deserves? Nuh-uh.

In addition, the Coolidge under Joe has programmed the best of the new off-Hollywood films, not an easy task when the Landmark chain is eating into the programming and profits of independent moviehouses. And that's not even mentioning the midnight shows and book readings and burlesque revues and other events that have made the theater a vital (and nicely twisted) fixture on the local cultural scene. The theater is irreplaceable; I worry that Joe might be as well. The search for a new executive director begins immediately.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.

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