It was the opening night of Aspen Film Fest 2022, and Susan Wrubel was nervous.

Not necessarily for the start of the festival, though.

Before the executive and artistic director of Aspen Film could make it to the launch party, she needed to know if the Aspen City Council would vote for Aspen Film to buy the Isis Theater from the city.

“I was at my wit’s end,” she said in a phone call Wednesday morning. “I’ve been told by many people that there should be a layup, and, you know, don’t worry, but you never know until you know it.”

Now she knows. The Aspen City Council unanimously approved the sale at a meeting Tuesday afternoon. And Wrubel was able to bring the news straight to the Wheeler Opera House to kick off Film Fest.

“Not only was it amazing to hear the outpouring of support from the city, but it was so awesome to be able to share it with the community literally after it happened,” she said. “So last night was really joyful.”

The sale was “not an option as much as a requirement,” city chief financial officer Pete Strecker said at the meeting.

Aspen Film has rented space from the city for a decade and a half. And that lease allowed the nonprofit to eventually buy the space for just $10 once much of the debt on the building is cleared.

City officials, Aspen Film, and a retail company reached a deal in 2007 to buy the Isis to “save” it and preserve the building’s role as a theater.

The city leveraged its credit to buy the building for around $8.5 million and then leased it to Aspen Film and the retail group.

Rent payments have reduced debt, and the retail business has already purchased its portion of the building in 2019.

There’s just under $2.1 million left in debt on the theater section, which is the bulk of the money Aspen Film will have to shell out to buy the Isis. The sale is expected to close on October 14.

An anonymous lender is helping Aspen Film cover that total, Wrubel said.

“We had asked someone to take out the debt, and that gives us a little more leverage to raise capital and raise capital to do some theater raises on top of that,” she said.

The nonprofit has an ongoing fundraising campaign and a number of fundraising efforts are already underway for the organization.

And when the city council approved the sale, it also gave its consent to remove a restrictive covenant on the naming of individual theaters.

The Isis will still be called The Isis, but donors can now name each of the complex’s four screens if they wish. It will also help raise funds, says Wrubel.

“We’re definitely looking for community support, but you know, we’re going to need big bucks to get to the finish line,” she said.

These “increases” mentioned by Wrubel will include ADA accessibility improvements and concession area upgrades.

She says the work includes a stage in the main auditorium for live events and an educational space downstairs with editing bays for students.

Work would proceed in phases starting in 2023 so parts of the theater could remain open, Wrubel says.

Aspen Film enlisted Bow Tie Management, a professional theater management company, to assist with Isis operations. Bow Tie also operates the Movieland Theater in El Jebel, as well as four other theaters in four different states.

The Moss family, owners of the business, have ties to the Roaring Fork Valley and local nonprofits in the community.

“They understand this community: Charley and Ben Moss, the directors, are both part of the Aspen community, so they understand very well who is here,” Wrubel said.

“It really made sense to move forward,” she added.

The Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Theaters previously handled day-to-day operations and sublet the Isis Theater space to Aspen Film.

Their lease ended in 2020, but Aspen Film granted Metropolitan several extensions to ensure Aspen would still have films on screen, Wrubel said.

“The space was technically theirs and we had limited usage rights,” she said. “Now we can basically dictate what we want on screens (and) when.”

The new setup will be a partnership that gives Aspen Film more autonomy over what plays.

There will always be commercial films on a few screens, but Aspen Film now has the leeway to show more auteur films and host community events in the space, Wrubel says.

“Aspen Film always has a screen on hand to do things, whether it’s a one-off piece we want to show or to donate to a partner organization,” Wrubel said. “And that’s something we didn’t really have the ability to do before.”

Metropolitan took over the Isis after the theater went through the turmoil of several management changes (and a bankruptcy filing by an operator) in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

It was under the same ownership for three decades prior, as Aspenites Kitty and Dominic Linza owned the theater from 1968 to 1999.

The Linza family recently donated three decades of original film posters from their tenure at Isis to Aspen Film to support the organization’s fundraising efforts.

The memorabilia is part of “Posterfest,” which is taking place this week in tandem with the Aspen Film Fest as a fundraiser for the organization.

The theater opened over a century ago and operated for decades as a single-screen movie theater before being transformed into a more commercial multiplex in the late 90s.

Wrubel recognizes this historical significance and the role the theater has played in the Aspen community.

“It’s a beloved community asset, … and I’ve spoken with a lot of people over the past couple of years about Isis, rescuing Isis, what it means,” he said. she stated.

“And there are several loyal members of the community, I will say, who think Aspen isn’t Aspen without Isis, and no one wants to be in a community like this without a movie theater,” she added. .

But these two years have not been easy for Isis, nor for cinemas around the world.

Board members recognized how much theater has evolved since then.

“It was a tough time,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said.

“We had some confidence in your ability to move forward, and so we were in partnership,” she added. “And just when I saw this in our package, I was amazed that you brought it from a few years ago to where it is now.”

The enthusiasm the council and community have shown for the news speaks to the importance Aspen places on Isis, Wrubel said.

“It felt like a truly triumphant night and we couldn’t be more proud, grateful, thankful, excited,” Wrubel said.