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Santa Barbara International Film Festival Raises Curtain on Riviera Theatre Renovations

With $5 million capital campaign underway, and construction about to begin, SBIFF focused on creating a central hub for all things cinema

Lynda Weinman, founder of Lynda.com and board president of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, is flanked by her husband, Bruce Heavin, right, and SBIFF executive director Roger Durling. Weinman and Heavin are excited about the impending renovations at the Riviera Theatre. “Santa Barbara deserves a full-time art house theater, and we are going to provide it!” she says. Click to view larger
Lynda Weinman, founder of Lynda.com and board president of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, is flanked by her husband, Bruce Heavin, right, and SBIFF executive director Roger Durling. Weinman and Heavin are excited about the impending renovations at the Riviera Theatre. “Santa Barbara deserves a full-time art house theater, and we are going to provide it!” she says. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival, a central hub of the community showcasing A-list movie stars, groundbreaking films and award-winning documentaries, has embarked on a $5 million capital campaign geared toward renovating the historic Riviera Theatre.

The acquisition of the theater in the form of a 30-year lease is a major turning point for SBIFF. The organization, with assistance from The Towbes Group, plans to transform the theater into a multipurpose, state-of-the-art educational center that will create a cultural hub for the Santa Barbara community.

Upon completion, the theater will offer year-round screenings for festival audiences and expansion of the SBIFF education programs that foster academic and cultural enrichment opportunities to thousands of students throughout Santa Barbara County.

“Acquiring the Riviera Theatre is the next natural step in SBIFF’s evolution as it crystallizes the expansion of all of our different programs,” executive director Roger Durling told Noozhawk.

The Corwin family-owned Metropolitan Theatres Corp., which controls every other commercial movie theater on the South Coast, is coordinating with SBIFF as details are being worked out, and films continue to run on a daily basis. The new renovations begin in January, with plans to reopen at the end of March 2017.

The complex tasks of renovation and integration of SBIFF’s programs will provide for an enhanced ability to better serve the underserved in the community, year-round.

The Riviera Project is all about our Santa Barbara community,” Durling explained. “We’re particularly interested in making sure underserved and under-resourced communities have access to quality arts education programs.”

In addition to increased educational opportunities, the renovations will improve on the general viewing experience. Plans are underway to build a state-of-the-art multipurpose theater, including comfortable seats, world-class sound and projection systems, a balcony lounge with a new elevator, and heating and air conditioning.

Recently, veteran board member and local tech entrepreneur Lynda Weinman was elected to the position of board president.

“With the Riviera, we can program the theater every night of the week,” Weinman exclaimed. “Santa Barbara deserves a full-time art house theater, and we are going to provide it!

“The beautiful thing with our capital campaign is that we are not doing the minimal remodel. We plan for the theater to be state-of-the-art lighting, sound, projection! Comfortable seats, a better viewing angle for all seats, and even cup holders!”

Weinman, who along with husband, Bruce Heavin, has been key to raising community awareness and funds for current and future theater renovations, are also proud to be the anchor sponsors of the theater, having been awarded the naming opportunity with a major donation to the capital campaign.

From top, Santa Barbara International Film Festival executive director Roger Durling, board president Lynda Weinman and Weinman’s husband, Bruce Heavin, are taking the long view with the Riviera Theatre. “The Riviera Project is all about our Santa Barbara community,” Durling says. “We’re particularly interested in making sure underserved and under-resourced communities have access to quality arts education programs.” Click to view larger
From top, Santa Barbara International Film Festival executive director Roger Durling, board president Lynda Weinman and Weinman’s husband, Bruce Heavin, are taking the long view with the Riviera Theatre. “The Riviera Project is all about our Santa Barbara community,” Durling says. “We’re particularly interested in making sure underserved and under-resourced communities have access to quality arts education programs.” (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

And, with an already impressive list of career and community accomplishments, the theater honor ranks highly for this dynamic duo.

“It’s a joy to be able to give back to our community,” Weinman shared. “The theater will touch countless lives over the next decades as a resource to see provocative and engaging cinema.”

Over two decades of building Lynda.com into the leading online learning platform, serving more than 10,000 organizations and millions of individuals around the world, Weinman is utilizing her unique skill set to lead the board in implementing SBIFF’s strategic vision.

“I have been on the board for six years, and became president a few months back,” she said. “SBIFF is one of my favorite Santa Barbara resources, as it is an avenue for locals to be exposed to films from all over the world.”

The vision of The Riviera Project is a four-part phase for the future to create a cultural hub for all things films, expand education programs with new and diverse year-round events, preserve an important historic landmark, and enhance the theater experience for audiences.

These improvements will also benefit panels, workshops and Q&As, as well as include a smart classroom.

“We are creating a 24/7 community center focused on the art of film in Santa Barbara for Santa Barbara,” Durling said. “The Riviera Project is about serving our community better, and using the power of film to educate, as well as inspire and influence change.”

Education and outreach programs offered to youths, like Apple Box and Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies, are at the heart of SBIFF — with hundreds of children benefiting.

SBIFF’s education programs currently reach 20,000 individuals every year, primarily benefiting underserved and low-income communities. The programs are all offered at no cost, helping to develop competency in analyzing and appreciating visual media.

“We will continue to offer programs such as AppleBox and Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies during our annual festival,” Durling said. “But now with a home base we expect to serve thousands more through these programs as well as new programs such as our Programs for Seniors.”

The new senior-based program is a partnership with Easy Lift Transportation that provides a fun, social, movie-going experience for transit-dependent seniors.

The renovations are expected to be completed by the end of March, with the second phase for the balcony lounge and elevator scheduled for completion in 2018.

So far, more than $3 million has been raised toward the March 31 goal of $5 million.

Click here for more information about The Riviera Project, or contact SBIFF director of advancement Cindy Chyr at [email protected] or 805.963.0023 x809.

Click here to make an online donation. SBIFF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and donations to support The Riviera Project are 100 percent tax deductible.

Now, more than ever, the community at large can become involved in efforts to renovate and improve on the many intriguing aspects of the beloved Riviera Theatre.

“This theater is so special,” Weinman said. “I love the location and the retro feeling of the building and the space. It is greatly loved by all.”

— Noozhawk contributing writer Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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