Another opening, another show for film buff
Jon Vickers uprooted himself and his family from Michigan to become director of IU Cinema at Indiana University in Bloomington. The nearly 300 seat rehabbed theater offers state of the art technology including digital projection, 16 and 35mm capabilities, plus top of the line sound. In addition to bringing in films, there is access to a vast film collection and historic annotated film scripts, such as Citizen Cain at the nearby Lilly Library on campus. There is even a John Ford Oscar and Guttenberg Bible. (Charles Osgood/Tribune photo / January 30, 2011)
But some offers, to parrot that famous line from "The Godfather," cannot be refused.
And so, you will now find Vickers in Bloomington, Ind. That's Jon in Osgood's photo, standing in the lavish IU Cinema at Indiana University, a 300-seat, lovingly rehabbed space that is his new "home."
The Vickers ran their Three Oaks movie house for more than 15 years, having opened — reopened, actually, after two long years of refurbishing — what had been the Lee Theater in 1996 and helping the small town establish itself as one of the liveliest arts communities in the Midwest.
The building was never much to look at, starting its life in the 1890s as a livery stable before being converted by a man named Frank Lee into a movie theater in 1911. It eventually, after being later known as the Family Theater and Oak Theater, went out of business in the 1980s.
The Vickers ran it with love and care and creativity, choosing to show films that reflected their wide tastes: They opened with "Citizen Kane," and the next night screened a Korean film. Over the years they created a loyal audience, drawn not only by the intimacy of the space but by an eclectic mix of documentaries, silent and classic films, and foreign language films, as well as the works of contemporary directors and some under-the-multiplex-radar movies.
The theater has 150-some comfortable seats and a lobby that often served as an art gallery. It also hosted musical performances, poetry readings and lectures.
Vickers is a Three Oaks native. His family business, Vickers Engineering, is based there, and for a time he worked at the firm. His wife is an artist from the Detroit area; they met as students at Michigan State University. They both worked various jobs at the theater while starting a family that now has three kids, Ava, Frankie and Max, the latter two in their teens and the daughter almost there. In addition to all that, Jon also worked as cinema manager and managing director of the University of Notre Dame's DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts in nearby South Bend.
He heard about the IU job and, almost as a lark, applied. He got it and has now been at it for almost a year, overseeing its transformation from 1940s-era University Theatre into a THX-certified cinema. That makes it one of only three college campus theaters in the country to have this designation, which was developed by filmmaker George Lucas. He has also been busy building the university's cinema program in collaboration with the school's academic departments.
He says that leaving Three Oaks was the toughest decision he ever made in his life. But his three kids and wife fell in love with Bloomington, and he with the challenges and potential joys of the new job.
During the summer, the Vickers Theatre was bought by Judy and Joe Scully with partner Bill Lindblom, all from nearby Lakeside and all determined to follow the Vickers' aesthetic. Closed for the winter, it reopens in March.
Meanwhile, the IU Cinema officially opened to the public a couple of weeks ago with a screening of "Lawrence of Arabia." It is, as if you couldn't have guessed, one of Jon Vickers' favorite movies. It was a sellout.