The Motion Picture Association recently moved into a redesigned headquarters, just a couple blocks from the White House, and on Monday night the trade organization debuted the signature feature of their glassy new space: a 118-seat theater.
The occasion was a screening of Motherless Brooklyn, the new Edward Norton drama that opens on Nov. 1, but the studio hopes are that the venue will again become a focal point for D.C.’s social scene.
The theater replaces a smaller, 70-seat one that was part of a Brutalist-style structure opened in 1969.
Back then, with Jack Valenti at the helm, the theater became “one of the most exclusive invitations in Washington,” as The New York Times once described it. Lady Bird Johnson attended one of the first events, and President Gerald Ford, Vice Presidents Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and Jordan’s King Abdullah were among those who attended screenings there.
But the theater had been upstaged by larger, more modern venues in the past decade, including a screen at the Newseum which is, ironically, closing at the end of the year.
Plus, the Motion Picture Association was prevented from holding the same type of intimate, dinner-and-a-movie salons with lawmakers that were common during the Valenti era. Lobbying rules passed in 2007 restrict the way that trade associations can hold entertainment events such as screenings if elected representatives are on the invite list.
The new venue includes a lobby event space decorated with costumes and props from movies like The Dark Knight Rises and A League of Their Own. Curated by Liz Hart with input from studio archivists, the collection also includes the “Heart of the Ocean” from Titanic, the Liberty Bell from National Treasure and Sandra Bullock’s outfit from Bird Box. A private screening room named for Valenti features a display of the Superman costume worn by Christopher Reeve.
“It’s interesting that we have never done this before at the MPA. It seems so obvious,” MPA Chairman Charles Rivkin said to the crowd at the screening. The props are visible from the street, and he said that tourists already have been coming by “wondering when the museum is going to open.”
The theater includes a 12.5′ x 23′ screen and 4K projection with Dolby 3D, as well as Dolby Atmos immersive audio. Gensler, a popular architect for studio office and theater spaces, also designed the MPA renovation.
Developer Trammell Crow acquired an 80% ownership in the building in 2017 and embarked on a top-to-bottom renovation of the building. The Motion Picture Association retained a 20% stake in the structure, and is occupying two of its floors. The building also includes a rooftop event space with views of the White House and the Washington Monument.
The MPA is planning an official opening event on Oct. 16.
Norton was on hand for the Motherless Brooklyn screening. He directed the movie and wrote its screenplay, and stars as a 1950s New York detective who has Tourette’s Syndrome and is trying to unravel the mystery of his mentor’s murder. The intricate plot involves the slum clearance policies of a Robert Moses-like figure, played by Alec Baldwin.