Just past Valencia on 16th Street, among the decades-old dive bars and bodegas, a red and white Deco theater marquee blazes “ROXIE,” as it has every night for the past 80 years. Originally opened in 1909 as the C.H. Brown Theater (it became the Poppy in 1912 and the Roxie in 1933), its stage hosted vaudeville and burlesque, while its screen illuminated the stars of the silent film era until talkies were introduced. By the late ’60s, the surrounding blocks were nearly deserted after dark, save for a few lingering night crawlers, as the Roxie’s neon lights shined on. There was an adult bookshop, a liquor store, and the Russian mafia running 35mm pornography on the theater’s only screen.
By 1976, new management stepped in and the Roxie was transformed into the repertory theater it’s known as today. Its cutting-edge film festivals and debut screenings have brought the likes of John Waters, Akira Kurosawa, Werner Herzog, and scores of Hollywood actors through the theater’s doors to meet the San Francisco film-going public.
But that never translated into lasting financial success. As other art house cinemas turn to digital projection and Internet streaming, the Roxie continues its longstanding film tradition with 35 and 16mm projectors. Executive director Chris Statton says, “Filmmakers believe art is film, and we try to honor that.”
The theater’s main screening room of 238 seats and faded black walls still resembles more of a porn theater than the palatial Castro. But grand opulence has never been its strong point – that would be the unofficial brain trust that keeps the 104-year-old theater alive.
Rick joined the Roxie in 1989 as president of Roxie Releasing, the theater’s then-film distribution wing, just in time to release its biggest movie to date, Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh. He now works in programming and has been referred to as the “dad” of the team – building morale and making sure everyone eats lunch.
Favorite Roxie event: “Recently it was ‘The Dark Side of Oz’ – Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon played over The Wizard of Oz, on 4/20 no less. The urban myth was brought to life on 16th Street that night.”
Rachel started working at the Roxie six years ago, doing just about everything and working her way up to admin director. She now teaches a class on Cinema Tech Management at SF State. Recently, she began a local film series called “Neighborhood Night.” “I guess we’ve discovered a new point of entry for local independent filmmakers,” she says.
Memorable Roxie event: “The first solo programming for me was American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein. I was able to get a Palestinian and Israeli panel, but I realized how difficult it was, with my high hopes and big vision.”
Alan was a student at New College (the institution was one-time owner of the Roxie) and was there to watch the Mission-based liberal arts school fall into financial ruin, nearly taking the Roxie down with it. Alan was in on faculty talks to save the theater, and made the executive decision that he was the only one who could do it. “When I found it [the theater] was a fiscal mess, it was a physical mess, but the staff was absolutely excellent.”
Favorite Roxie Event: “The Everything Is Terrible holiday special that featured this dark puppet show – it was a great use of the stage and it was very interactive. It showed what could be done in a theater, but not in a home, and certainly not on an IMAX.”
Chris was a social worker before taking over as the Roxie’s executive director three years ago. One of his favorite projects was giving homeless street performers in San Rafael an event called “Sidewalk Slideshow.” His motto then became: “Just give me duct tape and some safety pins, and I’ll make this work!”
Memorable Roxie event: “The one that strikes me was our screening of Oliver Stone’s JFK on Thanksgiving. We thought, ‘Who’s not going to be celebrating Thanksgiving this year? Conspiracy theorists!’ So we got a group of them to sit on a panel and debate the assassination. It was great.”
Mike came to SF by way of Albany, NY, four years ago in order to, in his words, “Have a better time.” In Albany, he worked at an independent theater called the Spectrum where, as a teenager he sat in a wooden booth as parking lot security. He left the Spectrum an assistant manager, having instigated midnight movie screenings. Mike now works on programming at the Roxie, and started the policy of introducing films before they’re shown.
Favorite Roxie event: “Drunk and Alone (the annual screening of Home Alone where beer is offered) was one of my favorite events, because the people are so psyched. Also, the LCD Soundsystem movie was super fun – and a blur.”
Like many staff members, Catie started volunteering at the Roxie doing anything she could, including fixing toilets. So when Chris mentioned creating a membership program, she decided to take it on herself. “I just showed up with a desk one day,” she says. One year into the membership program, there are about 100 members, many of which volunteer to work the film festivals.
Favorite Roxie moment: “I got to meet Haskell Wexler, the cinematographer for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He came here for a tour of the theater and said that someone needs to make a movie about this place. I was talking to him for so long that I burnt the popcorn I was making.”
The best way to support the Roxie’s future is to become a member. For $23 per month, you get unlimited screenings and popcorn.