what we missed at the denis

Washington Road is vibrant. A variety of restaurants, unique retail shops and professional destinations enliven Uptown. The SpringHill Suites welcomes visitors who quickly discover what the street offers.

But the board of directors of the Denis Theatre Foundation and many others who have committed to restoring the theater—think the Denis, once a local landmark, is the missing link. Strategically located, the theater could be an Uptown anchor. What is keeping the Denis from lighting up the marquee? In a word, money. Fundraising efforts over the last few years have gone well, but the foundation still does not have the funds it needs to make the 1938 building suitable for 21st century audiences.

The foundation is stepping up its efforts to make individual donors the key to rebuilding the Denis. An anonymous donor has issued a challenge: Raise $290,000 by the end of 2015 and unlock a grant of $145,000. This would bring the donor’s investment to $500,000. As of September 1, the foundation had met 43 percent of the goal by raising $126,000.

A restored Denis Theatre would provide a venue for independent films and offer enriching programs for all ages. In contrast to similar efforts around the country, its proactive board already is doing programming in scattered locations around the community.

In an effort to attract more donors, popular film teacher and Denis board member Elaine Wertheim shares her vision of what might happened there this past year, if the theater were already open.

JANUARY 2015—The 200-seat main theater featured a variety of recently released independent film such as Boyhood, The Babadook and Life Itself. Throughout January the smaller theater focused on the best foreign films of 2014 including The Lunchbox, Ida, and Like Father, Like Son.

On a weekday morning, the large auditorium was packed with seniors for the latest Meet Me at the Movies, a program that provides facilitated discussion and lively film clips for those with cognitive impairment and their care partners.

FEBRUARY 2015—The red carpet extended along the sidewalk in front of the Denis as patrons flocked to the Denis Loves Oscar party—food, drinks and a chance to watch the Academy Awards on the big screen.

In The Learning Center, a five-week class focused on the five films nominated for Best Picture in 1967. This class, based on Mark Harris’ book, Pictures at a Revolution: 5 Movies and the Birth of a New Hollywood, explored how movie making changed forever during the seminal year, 1967.

MARCH 2015—The Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival lit up the Denis. The longest running women’s film festival has been looking to “go east,” and the Denis is a good fit. This unique festival focuses on documentary, animated films and narrative shorts. The Denis introduced audiences to Graffiti’s True Colors, A Goldfish and Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.

Saturday morning screenings and youth birthday parties continued to a be a big hit, as were private receptions in the Learning Center with its kitchen staging area.

APRIL 2015—The Denis Plays Ball. The best sports movies are about baseball. To help launch the Pirates’ season, The Denis hosted an opening night reception in the Encore Lounge to begin a series of classics that included The Natural, Fear Strikes Out and A League of Their Own.

Local artists held shows and weekend demonstrations in the Encore Lounge, pleasing visual arts lovers in Mt. Lebanon and beyond.

SEPTEMBER, 2015—The Denis and Hollywood theaters collaborated to celebrate decades of local moviemaking with the film festival Pittsburgh Made. Opening night moviegoers enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, wine and craft beer. The Hollywood’s organ enhanced several silent films from the 1920s. The weeklong festival featured informal talks by film scholars.

But Mt. Lebanon missed out on all of this because the Denis is not yet open. To donate and help make these things a reality, contact the foundation at 412.668.0737 or info@denistheatre.org.