It's been a tough couple of years for classic arthouse cinemas in Manhattan, which is why it's always a relief to get some good news: New Plaza Cinema — which was started in the wake of the closure of beloved Upper West Side theater, Lincoln Plaza Cinema — has found a new home. They now will be located at The West End Theatre at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on W. 86th Street.
Gary Palmucci, the curator of New Plaza Cinema since 2018, told Gothamist the theater would be located there for at least the next six months, starting next weekend. "We hope it grows, we hope it's successful," he said. "But we're kind of in a take-it-as-it-goes basis."
After Lincoln Plaza Cinemas shuttered in January 2018, New Plaza Cinema was quickly started as a non-profit by former patrons to try to fill in the gap in arthouse cinemas on the Upper West Side. They bounced around to a couple of different spaces in the years that followed, including the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan and Symphony Space. The longest and most successful tenure was at NYIT Auditorium on Broadway, where they were showing movies up until January 2020, when the site was destroyed by a water-main break.
Right as the pandemic hit, the theater briefly took root at the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle in March 2020. Since then, they've focused on virtual cinema, a lecture series and classic film TalkBacks.
"This is another chapter in a story that's been going on, in its fifth year now," Palmucci said. "Basically, we're trying to keep that Lincoln Plaza spirit and the spirit of communal specialized movie-going alive."
In recent years, a number of arthouse and single-screen cinemas in the borough have closed in addition to Lincoln Plaza, including the Ziegfeld, Landmark Sunshine, The Landmark at 57 West, and City Cinemas 86th Street. The UWS has been hit particularly hard, with only two cinemas left showing non-mainstream fare: Lincoln Center, which hosts the New York Film Festival, and the AMC Lincoln Square 13, which plays some specialized or indie cinema in addition to blockbusters.
Palmucci says that has left a shortage of movie screens for artier fare.
"There are distributors who can no longer get their films played on the Upper West Side, because it's just not enough screens," he said. "Fourteen screens have gone down in the last four years or so on the Upper West Side, leaving a situation considerably contracted from what it once was. We're hoping to fill some of that gap."
For its initial lineup, the theater is screening several Academy Award nominees, including Best Documentary nominees Summer of Soul and Writing with Fire; Flee, which has been nominated for Best Documentary as well as Best International and Best Animated Feature; and Nightmare Alley, which has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Cinematography.
There also will be showings of Compartment No. 6 (Grand Prix winner at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival), the documentary Breaking Bread and The Swimming Pool, a 1969 classic French melodrama with Alain Delon and Romy Schneider.
Screenings are scheduled to begin on Friday, February 18. Initial plans call for multiple daily showings from Thursday through Sunday (and on holiday weekends, Friday through Monday). They also plan to continue their TalkBack and lecture series online, though Palmucci notes they may phase out the streaming showings. (More information about pricing and times will be posted on their website in the coming days.)
Palmucci, who has lived in the city for about 45 years, says he was eager to get back to cinemas once theaters reopened in the city last March. He remains optimistic that in light of the slow easing of pandemic restrictions, people will be eager to resume communal activities like movie-going.
"We have a mailing list of about 13,000 people, mostly on the Upper West Side, and the thing that we really found in our tenure at the [NYIT Auditorium] is that there was a very loyal group of people who came to our theater who really felt the absence of Lincoln Plaza, almost as if they lost a family member or something," he said. "A lot of these people have been asking us for the last year or so, what's going on, are you going to have a new space? The idea of that community that people experience ... people miss it. They appreciate the other technical options that are available to watch films, but I think they missed that communal spirit. And we're hoping that that's still there, and that people are going to come out and welcome it."