(Photos: Scott Lynch)

Who doesn’t love the Film Forum? The autonomous, non-profit institution first started showing films (foreign, art house, independent, repertory) back in 1970, in a space with 50 folding chairs on the Upper West Side. It moved downtown two years later, and, after a couple of temporary homes in western Soho, settled into its current residence on Houston Street some 28 years ago. So even if you don’t make it over there as much as you’d like to anymore–those cramped seats am I right, ugh!–just the fact that it exists is enough to give you faith that NYC isn’t dead yet, right?

Well, sorry, that’s not going to cut it. Institutions, especially autonomous, non-profit ones like Film Forum, need your physical presence (and money) as well as your affection from afar. And now, thanks to a respectfully-conceived, extremely well-executed renovation of this cultural treasure–it’s been closed for construction since the spring–you can get excited again about actually going here and sitting through a two-plus-hour feature. Here are all the details on this near-miraculous, $5 million transformation:

  • There’s a whole new theater, upping the Film Forum’s total screen count from three to four. And they didn’t cut into any existing theaters, or the lobby, to build it; what’s now Theater Four used to be a loading dock. The new screen will be used for movies with longer-running commitments as well as holdovers of popular titles. This fourth screen will allow the Film Forum to increase its overall number of selections each year by a third.
  • The new seats–more than 500 of them, in all four theaters–are amazing! Made by Spanish design firm Figueras, they’re firm (but comfy), and much wider than their at-times-tortuous predecessors. The spacious, cushioned arm rests, too, are now places upon which you’d actually want to rest your arm. And there’s none of that fuzzy, vaguely disconcerting cloth material going on here anymore; soft, easily-cleaned vinyl is now where it’s at. Also, and crucially, the leg room in each row has been lengthened to a noticeable degree.
  • Just as crucial for your viewing pleasure, each of the old theaters have been re-raked, steepening the grade of the floor to a more stadium-style seating situation. This increases the number of “good” seats in each theater by a large margin.
  • There are two new additions to the lobby, most notably a 10′ x 5′ digital screen hung over the ticket-taker. This will show, among other things, silent, short, specially commissioned “lobby movies” by the likes of David Byrne and Cindy Sherman which you can watch while you wait in line for your theater to open. There’s also new carpeting, which is always nice.
  • Good things that have NOT changed at the new Film Forum: the layout of the lobby, and that funky, zig-zagging standing table; the generous slate of member benefits (their subscription-based model means they never have, nor ever will, accept MoviePass); the commitment to both new and classic movies; and, perhaps most important, the popcorn.
The Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street, between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street. Tonight is the grand re-opening, with a full schedule of movies daily from here on out.