Peggy Johnson is the executive director of the Loft Cinema Foundation, the nonprofit that runs the Loft Theater. The Loft is getting a major makeover this summer with a renovation of the main auditorium that will bring in new, more comfortable seating along with other improvements. Johnson recently discussed what’s happening at the Loft on the radio edition of “Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel”, which airs Sunday afternoons at 5 p.m. on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM. This Q&A is a condensed and edited version of that conversation.
You’re doing a major makeover in the main auditorium of the Loft. You still have movies going on in your upstairs theater and on the relatively new screen next door to the big screen, so we don’t want people thinking that you’re closed for business. But before we get into this summer’s programming, let’s start with the work you’re doing with the main auditorium.
This has been a long time coming, and we’re so excited it’s happening now. What we’re doing is really just bringing that big screen—the big theater that everybody loves so much—up-to-date. It’s going to have stadium seating in the back. It’s going to have more aisles. It’s going to have new comfortable seats. It’s going to have better sight lines. It has to be fully accessible, which has been such a priority, and it’s just really a long time coming. There will be other advantages along the way. We’re going to upgrade the sound a little bit, and we’re going to upgrade the air conditioning system. You know, little things like that, so it’ll be totally a modern space.
How old were those seats in there?
I think they were from the late ’60s, but I don’t have verifiable proof of that. The guys who took them out said that the manufacturer had not been in business since the ‘60s, so I think it’s a pretty good guess.
You had 50-year-old seats inside that theater?
You think it was time to replace them? Maybe, huh?
You’ll have aisles and stadium seating, so you’ll have fewer seats than you did before, but in general a much better experience for the folks who are going to come in and plop their butts down in those seats.
Exactly, some happy butts. I have one customer who keeps telling me, “I’m so tired of sitting on coat hangers.” So that’s not going to be the situation anymore. We will have fewer seats, but it’ll be a better experience. For those people—which I’m sure is a lot—who’ve been in there when we’ve had 500 people in there, that’s a lot of people in that space.
The project is slated for completion around mid-July?
That’s the hope. You know how construction is.
So you have about two months of working on some alternative programming, and for the rest of this month, you’re celebrating the work of Mel Brooks at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. You’ve got Blazing Saddles on Wednesday, May 24 and Spaceballs on Sunday, May 28.
It was something we’d suggested to the JCC to partner on, and they thought it was a good idea too. We do a series every month that honors a filmmaker or somebody in the film industry. We hadn’t done Mel Brooks. We suggested it to the JCC, and they thought it was the perfect director to partner on.
And you also have some outdoor screenings taking place at the Loft. You’ve got an inflatable screen and you’re going to set up chairs in the parking lot. Sounds like that’s also going to be a really nice way for folks to sit outside and see some of these movies: “Back to the Future”, “Selena”, a cat video festival, the First Friday shorts out there. Talk a little about what folks can expect to see out there in the parking lot.
The screen is great. We bought a van, and it has solar panels on the roof, and it’s lined with batteries so it’s a solar-powered system. We blow up the inflatable screen and run the projector and sound and all the other equipment off solar energy. The Loft was the first American member of an international solar mobile cinema network, which I met along the way at some of the festivals. We’re just super excited about being able to promote alternative energy, and also just to be able to take the films literally anywhere. We don’t need electricity; we don’t need a plug. So it’s really a super cool project. We’re going to have some screenings in the Loft parking lot on the north side of the building, and a little bit of everything. We’re starting off with the film “Twister”, and it’s going to be one of our Science on Screen films which is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Channel 9 meteorologist Erin Christiansen is going to come talk about storms.
Then you’re also going to be headed downtown to the Rialto Theater for the traditional Found Footage Festival on Saturday, May 27. What is the Found Footage Festival?
I have to say I think it’s one of the favorite things we do for the staff, because it is just so much fun. So it’s Nick and Joe, and they write for well-known comedy shows, and they put together a show that they tour. I think we’ve had them three or four times, and it’s footage that they have found—old VHS tapes mostly—and they just go through these tapes, and find the silliest, goofiest, funniest, crazy things. They weave them together, and they do kind of stand-up comedy around these clips.
You’re going to take the Loft down to Tombstone, Arizona with Alex Cox, the director of “Repo Man” and “Sid and Nancy” and plenty of other fine films. Talk a little bit about what this event is all about.
So this is Wyatt Earp Days in Tombstone, and this is a series we’re calling Loft Film Fest On the Road, which is taking films from our November festival and showing them in unusual places or unexpected places where audiences might not otherwise get to see these films. We’re starting with “Tombstone Rashomon”, which was shot in Tucson—in Old Tucson as a matter of fact—and it’s a take on Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”. It’s the shootout at the O.K. Corral from different people’s perspectives. And Alex Cox is a legend. He’s going to be there to talk about the film, and talk to people. I’m sure a lot of the people in the film will be there, because when we showed it at the film festival in November it was a packed house. We got a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts this year that supports the Loft Film Fest On the Road and will be supporting the festival in November. We also have support from Desert Diamond Casinos for the Loft Film Fest On the Road and the festival. So those two funding sources are making this possible.
In late July, once the main auditorium is finished, you’ll be presenting the Loft’s Kids Film Festival. You open the doors, the kids run wild, and you show kid-oriented movies in the morning.
It’s nine days from July 22 to July 30. We show a film every day. We have free popcorn for the kids, and depending on the day there’s a free activity. Some days we give away bicycle helmets, we give away books. It’s just a really good time. The thing that’s going to be different this year is that on the weekend screenings—both Saturdays and Sundays, so that’s four days during the festival—we’re going to have two screenings instead of one, because we do have a smaller capacity in the big theater, and we turned people away anyway on the weekends when we had 500 seats. We’re going to be doing two screenings on Saturday and two screenings on Sunday of the films that we select for the days. It’s such a great event. We have people tell us they change their summer vacation plans, or change the week the kids go to camp so they can be at this festival. It’s really become a thing a lot of families really look forward to.
The work you do at the Loft there is extraordinary. I want to thank you on behalf of the movie-loving community for doing so much.
Let me just give a shout-out to the people I work with, because I have the most amazing coworkers in the world. They are so passionate and so smart. They work so hard, and they just blow me away every day with what they’re able to accomplish. So it’s not me, it’s them.