Downtown Granada Theater reopens for film fest

Granada Theater

For four days in October, the Morgan Hill landmark Granada Theater will open its doors for the ninth annual Poppy Jasper Short Film Festival, and downtown advocates hope the temporary opening will energize nearby businesses and keep visitors wanting to come back.

With the blessing of the theater’s owner – the Morgan Hill Economic Development Corporation – on Wednesday, the Poppy Jasper crew will clean the house and make about $5,000 worth of repairs that will prepare the shuttered venue for the Oct. 11 to 14 event, according to Poppy Jasper Film Festival chair Bob Snow.

The move back downtown from the Tennant Station CineLux multi-plex, where the festival has been held the last few years, will accompany efforts by the Morgan Hill Downtown Association and businesses to promote the downtown as a whole, encouraging festival-goers to dine, shop and relax at neighboring establishments, and convincing downtown regulars and residents to enjoy the many short films that will be featured at the Granada’s two screens.

“We’ve got some really great films this year, and we want to give people as many chances to see them as we can,” Snow said. “Everybody we’ve talked to downtown – the merchants and restaurants – are really excited about bringing it back in, and we do get filmmakers and people from all over (the world), and we want to show them a nice downtown.”

The opening of the Granada after seven shuttered years – and the repairs that have to be made for safety’s sake – are not intended to foretell a long-term effort to re-establish the venue for cinema or entertainment, or even a regular part-time reopening of the theater, according to EDC staff and board members.

The EDC, which was granted the theater from the city’s now-defunct redevelopment agency last year, still intends to market the property for development with a mixed-use retail, office and residential project, according to board members.

But the MHDA, whose primary tasks include supporting downtown businesses and promoting them to outside visitors, plans to make the most of the festival’s four days.

“It’s going to bring awareness” for the downtown, said MHDA events coordinator Raquel Crowell. “We’ll try to plan an event around the festival, and get the merchants, restaurants and businesses involved to promote it. And it will bring some diversity – there may be people who are interested in the film festival that don’t come for any of the other (downtown) events.”

The redevelopment agency purchased the Granada Theater in 2008, and the EDC’s plan for the property continues the RDA’s original intent. The RDA paid a total of about $20 million for the Granada and other downtown properties including the Downtown Mall, the Morgan Hill Cigar Company, the former site of Simple Beverages on Monterey and Third streets, and the site of the Royal Clothier store.

With four of the EDC board’s seven directors present at their board meeting Wednesday, they voted unanimously to allow the festival to use the theater in October.

EDC chair and city councilman Larry Carr said as part of the effort to work with the Poppy Jasper Short Film Festival to host the event at the Granada, the EDC enlisted an engineering consultant and a city building official to assess the property and determine what repairs are necessary.

Necessary repairs include improving the bathrooms, ensuring fire safety measures are in place, professional cleaning throughout the facility, and temporary ADA accessible bathrooms, Carr said.

Snow explained the festival committee will be responsible for completing or paying for all of the repairs, and they will seek donations from the community. Any construction work, he said, will be done by licensed contractors.

The Granada Theater was built at its current location, on the 17400 block of Monterey Road next door to what is now the Downtown Mall, in the 1950s, according to a website created by the Save the Granada foundation which attempted to convince the city and redevelopment agency to renovate for permanent entertainment uses in 2010.

The Poppy Jasper international short film festival was founded in Morgan Hill, and started at the Granada Theater which has been closed since 2005. The festival features four days of new international short film screenings, workshops, special guests, a student film showcase and local filmmakers screenings.

MHDA chair and co-owner of BookSmart on Depot and Third streets Brad Jones recalls the days when the Granada was open as a full-time cinema screening current features. He remembers how much life the theater crowds brought to downtown, and how much business the movie-goers brought to his store and other nearby establishments.

Jones thinks it’s “fantastic” that the Granada will host the Poppy Jasper festival again. He hopes the brief re-opening of the theater will show the EDC and other decision-makers how successful the downtown can be with at least a part-time theater or entertainment venue, even though reopening the Granada for such a purpose would require an extensive and costly renovation.

“I would like to think that the EDC would see the theater as an asset and allow it to be used until the theater can be replaced,” Jones said. “To me, sitting on the theater and not using it is like putting money in the bank with no interest. It makes no sense.”

• Past films: Several of Poppy Jasper’s films have gone on to be nominated for an Oscar. Most recently, the festival’s 2011 “Best Science Fiction Film,” titled “Time Freak,” was nominated for “Best Live Action Short Film” at the 2012 Academy Awards.
• By the numbers: An average of 1,000 people attend the festival each year.
• Story behind the name: Poppy Jasper is a semi-precious gemstone noted for its red and yellow circles, or “orbs” on a field of white or black. Like the festival, Poppy Jasper is unique to Morgan Hill. The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. lists Morgan Hill as the “type locality” for this beautiful and rare gemstone. Samples of the Poppy Jasper gemstone are on display in various locations throughout the city, and a piece of the gemstone is embedded into each Poppy Jasper International Film Festival trophy.
• For more info: To check out the complete list of films that will be showing at the festival this year, visit www.poppyjasperfilmfest.org
• Bonus! The festival will also be showing several full length, feature films that were played at the Cannes Film Festival in France this year.

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