Council approves funding agreement for Sidewalk Film Center & Cinema

Rendering of the Sidewalk Film Center & Cinema

Residents walking by the Pizitz building downtown may have noticed a new project underway — the construction of the Sidewalk Film Center & Cinema.

On Tuesday the Birmingham City Council passed a resolution approving $200,000 in funding to assist in the development of a two-screen art house cinema and educational space on the bottom floor of the newly restored Pizitz building that has become a major economic anchor downtown.

Here is the resolution as it appeared on Tuesday’s agenda:

According to the agreement, Sidewalk will maintain and operate the film center year round and make the space available to filmmakers, students and the community at large to use for film projects. The cinema will also screen movies and serve as an event space.

“The intent is to provide year-round programming and operations, allowing Sidewalk and the City to attract visitors from outside the area while providing quality entertainment to the citizens of the City,” the agreement reads.

Council President Valerie Abbott, who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee that recommended the item to the Council, said it’s past time that Birmingham had a cinema to screen independent films.

Councilors Wardine Alexander and Darrell O’Quinn at the groundbreaking event for the Sidewalk Film Center & Cinema

“This is exciting to have an independent cinema opening in Birmingham,” Abbott said. “I think that the city’s contribution is a drop in the bucket but it’s a much needed drop. It’s exciting to see. Those people have to work 12 and 14-hour days on their films. After the films are finished we have a space for them to show these movies and I think it’s a great opportunity for the city to showcase our homegrown talent.”

Construction is currently expected to be completed by June 2019 and the space will be fully operational in time for the annual Sidewalk Film Festival, which will be held August 19–25 in the downtown area, according to Sidewalk’s Executive Director Chloe Cook.

“This is a project that we as an organization have been working on for five years now,” Cook said following the meeting. “Being able to add our city government to our list of donors is really important to us. One, it’s a sign that our city leaders value the arts and entertainment, not only from a cultural standpoint but from an economic standpoint. Also, it lends credibility to our project as we try and finish out our fundraising.”

Councilor Steven Hoyt said he has been impressed by the economic impact that the film industry has had on Birmingham in recent years, with several major films shooting on location in the Magic City.

“I’ve supported the film industry since early on when our state representatives where helping the city get funding to recruit the film industry,” Hoyt said. “I’m in favor of this, I think it’s excellent. When I was in New York I saw little cinemas like this and film crews shooting on location. So it’s very exciting to see Birmingham carving out a place in the film industry.”