George R.R. Martin says his fans can rest easy. Buying Santa Fe’s downtown Jean Cocteau Cinema won’t interfere with his television screenwriting or with the next book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series.
“I’m a writer. I’m a novelist. I’m a screenwriter, a television producer and writer. I’m not a real-estate magnate or a theater owner, but I’ve always loved movies and I’ve always loved old theaters,” said Martin, author of the fantasy novels on which the hit HBO series Game of Thrones is based. At a news conference Tuesday, he formally announced his February purchase of the cinema building on Montezuma Avenue near the Santa Fe Railyard.
Martin, who has lived in Santa Fe since 1979, said he was saddened when the theater went dark in 2006 and eagerly waited for the New Mexico Film Museum to open on the site, but it never materialized. The author said he noticed a “For Sale” sign this winter on the building and thought, “Why doesn’t somebody reopen it? Why don’t I reopen it?”
Although he intended to keep the plan under wraps for a few more weeks, Martin said that as word got out in Santa Fe, he decided to talk about what he says is “the very earliest stage” of execution.
“I am bound and determined that we are once again going to have the best popcorn in town,” he said, adding later, “I want this theater to be what it once was — a beloved theater.”
Martin has hired Santa Fe Film Festival founder Jon Bowman to manage the 120-seat cinema— which will keep the Jean Cocteau Cinema name — and the pair promised Tuesday to show a mix of classic films and first run movies on the single screen. The 35 mm projection equipment will be upgraded to digital in the next couple of months, and the cinema will reacquire a popcorn machine and other necessities, Bowman said.
A commercial building associated with the Railyard was erected on the site around 1910. “Four hippies” ran the first theater, called Collective Fantasy, which opened in 1976, Bowman said. It wasn’t until 1983 that the Trans-Lux corporation took over and began running the cinema as the Jean Cocteau, named for a famed French novelist and filmmaker.
In addition to the theater, Martin’s building has another 9,000 square feet of retail and office space. Property manager Pam Ostrowski said she’s found tenants for most of the spaces already, including a basement where Martin said people were making a vampire film on Tuesday.
Bowman said the cinema expects to re-open in mid to late summer and might also offer live performances by comedians, singers and authors.
“The programming will be eclectic and it will be in spirit of the Cocteau and of the Collective Fantasy, the kind of programming that we all remember,” Bowman said. “Obviously, times have changed. It’s not totally a nostalgic trip. It’s a different era now and the film movements are different, so it will be adjusted and updated and will have to reflect contemporary times somewhat. But that spirit and that approach is going to be the same, with love and passion for the films.”
Martin said he was somewhat shocked to learn a few months after buying the theater that plans for a new cinema on the Santa Fe Railyard were picking up steam again. The Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation announced last week that it would begin negotiations with Violet Crown, an Austin movie theater that wants to expand to Santa Fe.
“I’ve seen these Railyard theaters announced four times before and somehow there is no Railyard theater, so I’ll really start worrying about that when they break ground and start building it, and even in that case, I’m not sure that we really need to worry about it. There are a lot of movies out there and there is a lot of room for different movies,” Martin said.
Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @julieanngrimm.