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Pioneer Theater Closes!

By Mike Everleth ⋅ November 3, 2008

Marquee of the now closed Pioneer Theater in New York City

This was sucky news to hear today: The Two Boots Pioneer Theater in NYC’s Lower East Side shut down over the weekend. Although I haven’t lived in New York in six and a half years, the Pioneer was one of my favorite theaters to go to back when it opened in 2000 until I moved to L.A. in 2002. It’s a place that will be sorely missed.

If you still live in NYC and want to say goodbye to this absolute treasure of a movie theater, you still can when the Pioneer will hold a special farewell party this Friday Nov. 7 starting at 6 p.m. I’m hoping that as news about the closure spreads out, we’ll be seeing some great tributes out there because right now it seems like this tragic ending is happening with a whimper instead of a bang.

There’s only a few brief mentions out there. First, I found out the news via director John R. Hand’s blog. Hand’s debut feature, Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare, ran for a full week at the Pioneer two years ago. Also, The Reeler’s S.T. VanAirsdale writes up a brief obituary while the blog Week of Wonders runs a photo of a robot from Jim McKenney’s Automatons standing in the theater lobby.

I’ve copied and pasted the Pioneer’s official statement regarding the closing below that you can read in full, but in brief it blames the situation on the theater’s lease ending with an impending rent hike. That’s the story of NYC, right? Strangely, though, the Pioneer’s programmer, Lee Peterson, who took over the job when original programmer Ray Privett left last spring, is going around and leaving the exact same comment on blog posts “defending” his Schlocktober Festival that ran during the Pioneer’s final month. I’m curious to see if he’ll leave the same comment here.

Personally, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Pioneer, but I have many fond memories of going. Most movies you forget what the hell theater you saw it at. The Pioneer was special, though, and they held a ton of interesting screenings that were unforgettable. This was a real film lover’s theater. It was very small, basically just a step up from a microcinema with its 99 seats. But they were comfortable seats placed in front of a decent sized screen. It was an intimate location, but never cramped.

This was the theater in which I ever saw the only theatrical presentation of my favorite movie of all time, Halloween. I also remember sitting behind Parker Posey during a special screening of The Cruise. Then there was the screening of In the Soup with a Q&A with director Alexandre Rockwell and a seemingly embarrassed and tight-lipped Steve Buscemi. This was also the theater in which I irritated Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple by innocently asking — yet apparently severely criticizing — her lack of certain footage in Woodstock ’94. Lastly, there was the time I went to a very late-night screening of my wife’s Plaster Caster, which was playing during a CMJ Festival, so I could report on the attendance and audience reaction. Both were very good. Those were all great times, for sure.

Here’s the Pioneer’s final statement:

Dear Pioneer Friends, Filmmakers, & Film Lovers,
Ten years ago, when we began construction on The Pioneer, we were told we were crazy – that no single screen, indie-oriented, 99 seat theater, east of Avenue A, could possible survive. But for nine years, we did – showcasing the best of truly independent cinema, presenting restored classics (from The Last Picture Show to Ace in the Hole), curating special programs (from Luis Guzman Night to the 42nd Street Smut Show), hosting guest filmmakers (from Robert Altman and Robert Downey to Steve Buscemi and Richard Kelly) and partnering with local film organizations including the IFP, Filmmaker’s Co-op, Cinema Tropical, Fangoria, Women in Film and Television, Cinewomen, Third I, Slamdance, Docfest, and many more…

We’ve been blessed that The Earth Mother, Mel Cooley, The Dude, and the other Two Boots pizzas have been able to support our labor of love all these years, but now, with our lease ending and a rent hike looming, it’s no longer economically feasible to keep the theater going. Friday, October 31st at midnight, will be our last regular screening, appropriately: Night of the Living Dead.

We want to thank our amazing staff, past and present, and we want to thank you, our loyal audience, for your patronage over the years. Please, PLEASE, keep supporting independent films and independent theaters.

Finally, on Friday, November 7th, we’ll be having a goodbye party starting at 6pm – free movies, popcorn, and reminiscences. Please come by!

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