When word came that Houston’s last arthouse theatre was in danger of closing, or potentially being demolished by its property owner Weingarten Realty, concerned fans rallied to form a group called Friends of River Oaks Theatre. This team of volunteers is composed of artists, filmmakers, historians, preservationists, cinema enthusiasts, and everyday citizens.
This isn’t the first time the theatre has been threatened. In 2007 activists worked successfully to save the theatre.
Friends of River Oaks Theatre hopes to convince the new property owner to preserve the historic integrity of the building and to continue to lease it as an operating theatre. We’re making big plans and need you to join us.
Independent filmmaker Richard Linklater credits the River Oaks Theatre as his “film school” - a hefty credit given that his work has been nominated multiple times for Academy Awards® and won Golden Globes. As a young adult, Linklater filled his weekends by losing himself in movies at the theatre; a place he calls a “church of the arts.” Today, he’s determined, “We’ll do whatever it takes” to save it.” His films include Boyhood, Before Sunrise, School of Rock, and Dazed and Confused. He is founder of the Austin Film Society.
Photo by George Pimentel - © WireImage.com
There’s more than music to Houston’s own international recording artist Bun B. He’s also a visiting professor at Rice University and adventurous cinephile, “Throw it up on a wall and see what sticks,” he told Friends of the River Oaks Theatre. “We need to have a place for people to come back home to showcase their films. It’s gonna be a black eye for the city” without the River Oaks Theatre. Bun B supports the Houston film community as an active board member of the Houston Cinema Arts Society.
A preeminent force in the international film world for over 20 years, Bob Berney has been associated with over $1 billion in U.S. Box Office revenue. Currently CEO of Picturehouse, his love for the River Oaks Theatre began after college when he managed Houston’s Greenway Theatre. Back then, he says, “The River Oaks Theatre was the holy grail.” Speaking as a seasoned film distributor now, he praised the theatre for allowing time for “indie films to breathe” rather than being pulled if performance on the first day didn't meet expectations.
Best known for his feature narrative film debut Room which premiered at both Sundance and Directors’ Fortnight film festivals, and his follow-up film Fourplay, Kyle Henry teaches film production at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. A “working film editor/educator/director hybrid” he hosted the March 31, 2021 virtual panel “Save Our Landmark: Houston’s Historic River Oaks Theatre” where he expressed his shock that the theatre was closing, “How can this possibly happen in the fourth largest city in the U.S. How?”
U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (TX-29) believes, “Houston without the River Oaks Theatre is like a library without books.” She attended the candlelight vigil following the final picture show at the theatre on March 25, 2021 and shared her personal memories. In an official statement later, she said, “As a lifelong film fan and loyal patron of River Oaks Theatre since I moved to Houston, I am saddened that it has been forced to close. More than just a place for movies, it is a cultural asset for our community. For many years, it has been the only venue to host screenings for countless diverse films. Our lives have been better because of these artistic and entertainment offerings.”
Film producer Elizabeth Avellán is probably best known for her films Predators and the Spy Kids franchise but a short list includes Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, Sin City, and Grindhouse. She is co-founder of Los Hooligans Productions and Troublemaker Studios with Robert Rodriguez, and is president of EYA Productions. In 2020 she co-founded Tealhouse Entertainment, a new global multimedia production company. Avellán, who came to Houston from her native Venezuela as a teen, moved to Austin after graduating from Rice University. She is Texas film industry royalty. Friends of River Oaks Theatre is honored to have her in our corner.
Filmmaker Wes Anderson began his career with a little short called Bottle Rocket which was successfully received at Sundance. He followed with Rushmore, inspired by his private Houston prep school, St. John’s. Next came The Life Aquatic Life with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, and an animated feature, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Those last two earned Oscar® nominations. In his message to Friends of River Oaks Theatre, he affirmed, “One of the things you genuinely and definitively cannot construct is an old building. Add to that: the rarity of an actual existing and operational movie palace. This one has a history like literally no other left in Houston.”
image credit: John Rasimus / (CC-BY-SA-40)
For nine years Houston’s premiere Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast CHAOS has performed alongside monthly midnight screenings at the River Oaks Theatre (and twice monthly in summers). With the closure of the theatre, the group is basically homeless and their fans distraught. On March 27, 2021 CHAOS hosted an enormously successful event, “Long Live the River Oaks Theatre” at Warehouse LIVE and raised nearly $10,000 to help with efforts to revive the theatre. Kudos to supporters like Kyle Vaughan and his cast!
Southwest Alternate Media Project, founded in 1977, is a media arts organization committed to the artists producing independent images, balanced media representation and to the cultivation of an engaged audience. SWAMP encourages development of audiences who seek out artistic voices that reflect, celebrate, and examine the cultural, social, and political diversity of their localities. As the fiscal sponsor for Friends of River Oaks Theatre we are providing fiduciary oversight, financial management, and other administrative services to help build the capacity of this group to grow and meet its mission as we have for many organizations and projects in the past.
Jennifer Mathieu is a writer and high school English teacher. She currently teaches at Bellaire High. Jennifer is the author of five young adult novels, and her 2017 book MOXIE features the power of zines; it was made into a Netflix film of the same name, directed by Amy Poehler.