There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future of film and film production in Fort Worth. Our city now boasts a film commission that works closely with Visit Fort Worth, the tourism-promoting wing of our city. The Lone Star Film Festival is nearing its 14th year. Red Productions, the full-service video production company, is building a backlot space on South Main Street that can be rented by locals and visiting film crews. On top of these new developments and growth, Fort Worth’s first indie movie theater is opening July 12 in the Foundry District.
The entrance to the Grand Berry Theater is near a wide ally on the north end of the building. Stepping inside, founder Jimmy Sweeney pointed to a single-window ticket booth on the left. An indoor marquee nearby will show movie listings, he said. The entrance leads to a large bar and lounge area.
“We’re trying to encourage people to come before and after to talk about what they’ve watched,” he said.
The bar will serve beer and wine by the can. The aluminum medium is easier to stock, serve, and dispose of, Sweeney said. Plus, who wants to carry two or three glasses of vino into a dark movie theater? Light noshes will be catered from a nearby and yet-to-be-determined restaurant. Fresh popcorn, the obligatory movie snack, will be available to feed crowds in the 50-seat theater.
Cinephiles can expect new independent, local, and classic films as well as family-friendly movies earlier in the day and the occasional film series. The opening day will have the documetary The Biggest Little Farm and the Kenyan lesbian romance Rafiki. “The bulk [of our programming] will be dedicated to independent releases that come out each year,” he said, mentioning A24, Amazon Studios, and Magnolia Pictures as three independent filmmakers he’s looking forward to showcasing.
There are many small film distributors who will benefit from the Grand Berry Theater’s opening too, Sweeney added. “We can offer them access to the 15th largest market in the U.S.,” he said. “That’s a market that is nonexistent right now.”
Sweeney graduated from TCU with a degree in supply chain management. Soon after, he began working at an Amazon warehouse. As a teenager in Sarasota, Florida, he frequented a small theater in his hometown called Burns Court Cinema. “I had a lot of friends who were into films,” he said. “We volunteered at local film festivals. A lot of them have gone to New York and L.A. to work in the film industry. When I came to Fort Worth, I didn’t have an avenue for seeing the [first-run foreign or independent art] films we were used to. I knew I couldn’t have been the only person in the city who wanted that, so I started to flesh out what opening a theater might look like.”
Sweeney crowdsourced advice from indie theaters across the country. Indywood Cinema in New Orleans has been a big help, he said.
The young entrepreneur envisions the Grand Berry Theater as a community space where the social interactions are just as important as the showtimes. “I remember going to see Slumdog Millionaire” in Sarasota, he said. “There was a communal aspect to the show. We heard about the experiences of a guy from India. I want to offer that more enriching experience that comes from being able to evaluate a piece of art with someone else.”
There’s been a cultural shift back toward working and socializing in groups, he continued. “As our society gets disconnected due to Netflix, Hulu, and streaming systems, you no longer need to leave the house,” he said. “Look at how coworking has become an industry. Now, many jobs don’t require that people gather in a centralized office. But people still crave human interaction. You can only work from home for so long before you tell yourself, ‘Man, I need to go talk to another human being.’ ”
Sweeney sees the Grand Berry Theater as a cultural space where creatives, families, and film lovers can mix and mingle. The grand opening will feature short films by local filmmakers, such as Megan Schultz, Ariel Leon, Kodi Zene, and others. Starting July 16, the theater will commence with a weekly Star Wars series every Tuesday. The first six installments of the fantasy saga will be shown in order. Ticket prices will be $10-15 for a special event such as this (or screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show) but only $8-10 for regular films.
The Foundry District, which has built its reputation partly on commissioned artworks and murals, is the perfect location for Fort Worth’s indie theater, he said. “The Foundry District as a whole, they do a lot to promote artists and public art in the city,” he said. “That is the community my wife and I were trying to tie into. We look forward to giving local filmmakers a place to put their talents on display.”