Film Forum was founded by two young cineastes with a $2000 investment, a tiny 16mm Bell & Howell projector and a rented loft space on West 88th Street.
Film Forum began in 1970 as an alternative screening space for independent films, with 50 folding chairs, one projector and a $19,000 annual budget. Karen Cooper became director in 1972 and under her leadership, Film Forum moved downtown to the Vandam Theater in 1975. In 1980, Cooper led the construction of a twin cinema on Watts Street. Finally, in 1989, when the Watts Street cinema was demolished by developers, Film Forum’s current Houston Street cinema was built. Today, Film Forum is a 3-screen cinema open 365 days a year, with 250,000 annual admissions, 489 seats, 59 employees, 4500 members and a $4.1 million operating budget.
We present two distinct, complementary film programs – NYC theatrical premieres of American independents and foreign art films, programmed by Cooper and Mike Maggiore; and, since 1987, repertory selections including foreign and American classics, genre works, festivals and directors’ retrospectives, programmed by Bruce Goldstein. Our third screen is dedicated to extended runs of popular selections from both programs, as well as new films for longer engagements.
We are the only autonomous nonprofit cinema in New York City and one of the few in the U.S. The success of our distinctive position is evidenced by our 38-year tenure, during which our programs and fiscal resources have grown steadily, while many art-house theaters throughout the city have closed. We raise approximately 36% of our operating income from public and private sources, which allows us to take risks on emerging filmmakers and challenging films.
As a cinema of ideas, Film Forum is committed to presenting an international array of films that treat diverse social, political, historical and cultural realities. Unlike commercial cinemas that primarily “book” high-grossing, Hollywood films, Film Forum’s programs are thoughtfully curated, with attention to unique cinematic qualities, historical importance individually or within a genre and, particularly for documentaries, relevance to today’s world.