Bryn Mawr Film Institute: a hidden gem

Ben Raymond

Some communities are fortunate enough to have a hidden treasure, some place that exists quietly, providing needed color to a blanched local landscape. For the Main Line, this treasure is the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Nobly dedicated to film education and preservation, it’s a sanctuary for the arts and a guiding light for the cultured Philadelphia suburbanite. In short, it’s a gift.

Founded in 2002 by the community’s academic, business and civic leaders, BMFI has established itself as one of the region’s high points for the arts. Attractive, vibrant and widely acclaimed, it has been consistently touted as one of the finest art houses in the Northeast.

The theater itself was built all the way back in 1926. Then named The Seville, it provided eager moviegoers a unique taste of the glitz and grandeur previously reserved for big city picture houses. Its comfortable atmosphere and unmistakable charm made it a local hotspot and an instant success.

By the 1950s, the theater came to be known as The Bryn Mawr Theater. But, unfortunately, more than the name had changed. The theater’s alluring nostalgia, inside and out, fell victim to neglect and disrepair. An unsightly marquee was installed outside, and the master auditorium had been divided into two smaller theaters.

Thanks to the generosity of numerous interested parties and the perseverance of concerned individuals, namely Executive Director Juliet Goodfriend, this local landmark has seen a timely resurrection.

Significant renovation efforts have been made to further improve the theater’s appeal, including plans for a massive refurbishment to the magnificent atrium skylight. With charitable donations from numerous local patrons, the project is nearly three-quarters of the way toward achieving its financial goal.

BMFI is a gallery for cinema’s finest masterpieces: restored prints of pre-war classics, one-time-only screenings of timeless golden era cinema and the best in modern foreign film. Fantastic packages are offered to prospective donators and discounted tickets are offered to all students. The institute also offers an exciting array of monthly film courses, ranging from “Orson Welles: Touch of Genius” to “Scorsese’s Cinema of Loneliness” and was selected this year as one of the screening venues for the Philadelphia Film Festival. Striving to educate, as well as inspire, BMFI is eclectic in its passionate pursuit of the preservation of fine cinema.

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute simply must be experienced. Its contribution to the arts and to culture itself is not to be taken for granted. It is to be cherished and enjoyed at every opportunity. From midday matinees to late-evening premieres, celebrity galas to film festivals, it’s an absolute gem, glimmering and rare – the region’s best kept secret. Now, the secret is out.