Photo by Sarah Walor
James Parrish (left) and Terry Rea at the Byrd Theatre
While collaborating on the 40th anniversary of the opening of Richmond’s Biograph Theatre for the James River Film Society in 2012, James Parrish and Terry Rea discussed the idea of bringing a “little cinema” to Richmond.
“Little cinema” was an idea that formed in the 1920s, when Hollywood had made everything big — big screens, big theaters, longer films. But some aficionados of small theaters and shorter movies continued supporting storefronts that projected films on a blank white wall.
Fascinated by the concept of “little cinema,” Parrish and Rea researched the steps necessary to bring the idea to life in Richmond. After several conversations, the dream continued to grow. Now, they are knee-deep in building a community hub based around film.
Both Parrish and Rea have focused much of their careers on film; Rea was the first manager of the Biograph — Richmond’s independent art-house cinema from 1972 to 1987 — and Parrish co-founded the James River Film Society.
In addition to opening their own theater, Parrish and Rea decided that incorporating a café would make for a more successful venue. The two also frequently returned their discussion to their love of film preservation, which led them to add to their business plan a center devoted to transferring small-format amateur films to a digital format. Suddenly, a grand idea had formed: the nonprofit Bijou Film Center. As it’s envisioned, the Bijou, which stands for “little jewel,” will show first-run independent and foreign films that otherwise wouldn’t come to Richmond, as well as classic films, Parrish says.
To help move their project forward, Parrish and Rea held a fundraising event in September: the screening of a 50th-anniversary restoration of A Hard Day’s Night, attended by more than 800 people, at the Byrd Theatre. The two are working on additional fundraisers, including the screening of Finding Vivian Maier on Feb. 15, 7 p.m. at the Byrd. (Tickets will be $5 in advance via bijoufilmcenter.org, at Bygones Vintage Clothing or at Candela Books and Gallery, and $7 at the door.) The Byrd, Candela and VCUarts’ Department of Photography and Film are co-presenters with the Bijou.
Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary that “plays like a mystery film,” Rea says. It uncovers the story of a nanny who took more than 100,000 photos during her lifetime — many of those in New York and Chicago, with children in tow. Twists and turns occur as those who thought they knew their nanny discover her secret life.
In October, the Bijou partners opened an office at Anchor Studios on West Broad Street in Richmond’s downtown arts district. During the First Fridays art walks, they have been projecting 16 mm films through the window onto a small electrical box on the sidewalk. “We’re projecting things that are easy to watch in that setting, like cartoons and silent films,” Parrish says. “It’s really just a way to get attention and get people to stop in.”
Being in the arts district has given Rea and Parrish an opportunity to talk to others who love films and filmmaking. “Now we are part of an artists’ collective … and we never really anticipated it, but we are enjoying it,” Rea says.
Although historically Richmond was not thought of as a movie town, according to Rea, the area has seen an increasing number of projects filming here, as well as new festivals. While this adds competition to their budding project, Parrish and Rea say the increased enthusiasm for cinema ultimately will be a good thing for the Bijou Film Center.
For now, the pair are working on starting the film-transferring part of the business, which they hope to launch this spring. They still need funds to buy the machine that will transfer Super 8 films to a digital medium, which will cost roughly $4,000, Rea says.
The two also have been meeting with contractors regarding the theater and café. While an opening date has not yet been set, they have looked into numerous buildings in the arts district, where they hope to settle. After three or four more events, they hope to raise enough money to secure a location.
“I’d love to see film buffs meet up for a beer after they’ve watched a movie to discuss the art,” Rea says. “And ultimately, the Bijou will have a good impact on the art community.”