An idyllic college town situated at the foot of the Northern Rockies, Missoula is home to the sprawling campus of the University of Montana, tens of thousands of people, and one especially vital art-house cinema. Today, the Roxy Theater is at the very center of the local cultural scene. But, as the new episode of our program Art-House America, now streaming on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, goes to show, the venue went through several lives before arriving at its current incarnation.
Built in 1937, the Roxy had a more than half-century history as a single-screen, second-run cinema, until a fire burned everything but its facade to the ground. Vacant for several years after the blaze, the building was acquired in 2001 by the International Wildlife Film Festival, a colorful annual event that attracts a wide audience and kicks off with a popular celebration in the streets of Missoula. The festival refurbished the space to host its program, and it was Mike Steinberg, the executive director the festival hired in 2013, who finally proposed opening the Roxy as a year-round hub for the independent, foreign, and classic movies, both first-run and repertory, that then lacked a proper home in the town. And the rest is history.
Ever since its reopening, the theater—where the warmly funny Steinberg still serves as executive director—has become “an anchor for the community,” in the words of Glenda Bradshaw, the owner of nearby Clyde Coffee, which sponsors an ongoing foreign-film repertory series there. In addition to this program, the Roxy has other series that showcase its playful side, including Hey Girl: The Romantic Adventures of Ryan T. Gosling and the Bill Murray mini-retrospective Murray Me. And its indispensable role as a stage for experimental theater and local music have helped solidify the sense of community on Missoula’s “Hip Strip” neighborhood.
To get a fuller glimpse of the venue’s inspiring mission in action, watch the whole episode above, then head over to the Channel to check out the science films of Jean Painlevé, the first selection by the Roxy—a tip of the cap to its own natural-world ancestry—in an ongoing series that the theater is programming for the Channel.