In an increasingly noisy and distracted world, it is often hard to capture people’s attention for more than a few minutes. A casualty of our distracted age is our broken connection with the natural world and all its wonders.
And yet, it is technology that helps bridge that gap through the power of film. Not just any film — Imax film, in all its sweeping 70-millimeter grandeur. One Imax screen in particular now needs to be protected from demolition.
Recently and to my astonishment, I learned that the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History is planning to destroy its Samuel C. Johnson Imax Theater. The destruction of this theater, a highly influential educational venue in Washington, my home town, must be stopped. I am president and chief executive of the Museum of Discovery and Science and AutoNation Imax Theater in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Here, our theater is a valued place where visitors learn in dynamic ways about the world around us and become inspired to protect our resources.
The experiences of soaring over the Amazon canopy or exploring the depths of the ocean aren’t things most people can count on doing in their lifetimes. But IMAX films at museums like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History have long provided visitors with the next best thing.
But immersive nature films presented on a huge screen may have had their day at the Smithsonian. The natural history museum’s Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater is scheduled to close September 30, to make way for an expansion of the food court, which the Smithsonian says is currently incapable of handling demand from visitors. According to a statement from museum director Kirk Johnson, “The restaurant planned for the West Court will alleviate those pressures and enable families to comfortably spend more time in the museum. The changes to the West Court will also offer more space for public events, displays and educational activities.”
The Imax theatre at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History appears to be, well, history. The Washington-based Smithsonian has decided to trim its fat by replacing its impressive facility with a restaurant. To little surprise, the decision to give priority to hot dogs over hot docs has not been popular in the educational-film world.
“Those of us who make natural history films, we do it out of passion,” says Jonathan Barker, a leading figure in giant-screen movie production. “Making Imax films is not much of a business, but it’s something that reaches people and it’s something that can have an impact on young lives. To take that experience away from people in one of the world’s great natural history museums just seems wrong.”
The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, DC, is planning to close its 18-year-old Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater on Sept. 30, nominally to “create new space for public programming and accommodate a more spacious and sustainable restaurant,” according to a statement from the museum’s director, Dr. Kirk Johnson. The plan had not been announced publicly and only came to light in mid-July, when a group of distinguished giant-screen film producers, led by Jonathan Barker of SK Films and Taran Davies of Cosmic Picture, published an open letter calling for the decision to be delayed or reversed. (Click the links to see that letter and the statement to LFX from NMNH.)
From a reader: “The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is closing down its IMAX theater to make room for an expanded cafeteria. It’s doing so without receiving public input or a real plan for cafeteria expansion. A group of filmmakers are banding together to try to stop the theater’s demolition, and if you want to save the IMAX, you can take action here.”
An editorial from The Washington Post
At the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, visitors can go on an adventure through the Amazon. They can walk the purple mountain majesties of America’s national parks, and they can even travel back to the Cretaceous period and see dinosaurs come to life. That’s all thanks to the museum’s Samuel C. Johnson Imax Theater. On Oct. 1, after 18 years, it will all shut down.
August 21, 2017
Dear Secretary Skorton,
I am sure you have read the Washington Post’s Sunday forthright editorial yesterday calling the Smithsonian’s decision “a shame” to destroy the Johnson IMAX Theater (“The Smithsonian is closing down an Imax theater. It shouldn’t.”). The same editorial also called out the Smithsonian for not being able to produce any documentation that an expanded cafeteria will earn more revenue than the theater. Meanwhile, the museum has asserted to the media this project will cost $16 million, a figure made without soliciting any cost proposals from qualified construction firms. Construction costs always have a way of skyrocketing, meaning the real price tag to the museum could be much, much larger.
Poor project planning and wasteful spending of taxpayer funds is a combustible combination. Now is the time for you to hit the pause button and to call for an immediate halt to the museum’s ill-conceived plan to destroy the Johnson IMAX Theater, a venue enjoyed by tens of thousands of school children every year. Your leadership is required to avoid further scrutiny of this plan, a plan which is fast becoming an embarrassment to the venerated 171-year-old Smithsonian Institution. Thoughtful planning, professional studies, and sober cost/benefit analyses are required.
AT THE Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, visitors can go on an adventure through the Amazon. They can walk the purple mountain majesties of America’s national parks, and they can even travel back to the Cretaceous period and see dinosaurs come to life. That’s all thanks to the museum’s Samuel C. Johnson Imax Theater. On Oct. 1, after 18 years, it will all shut down.
August 18, 2017
Dear Esteemed Members of the Smithsonian Board of Regents,
I trust you have read recent statements by the Director of the National Museum of Natural History and the museum’s spokespeople regarding the Johnson IMAX Theater. I trust you have also read the intense coverage of this ill-conceived plan in the media, a packet of which I enclose.
I am compelled to make several further points on behalf of “Save Our IMAX,” a group of the world’s leading giant screen documentary filmmakers, on how the museum continues to mislead you and the public in its plan to tear down a perfectly viable and profitable theater.
The Smithsonian Institution was founded 171 years ago with the mission of “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Add to that mission today the following: “You want fries with that?”
The venerated Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., has announced it will tear down the Johnson IMAX Theater—the premier theater in the United States dedicated to documentary films about nature—in order to sell more fast food.
Dear Esteemed Members of the Smithsonian Board of Regents,
I am writing with great concern about the Smithsonian’s decision to close the Johnson IMAX Theater at the National Museum of Natural History in order to expand the existing cafeteria.
The Johnson IMAX Theater is the premier venue in the United States dedicated to presenting the most successful and impactful educational documentary films about nature. This theater and its massive six-story screen draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Many of these visitors are school children who come to learn about the wonders of the natural world through the IMAX experience.
I am concerned that this decision to demolish the theater was made without any significant public discourse, and Smithsonian spokespersons have issued multiple misleading statements on behalf of your venerable institution that require clarification.
Dinosaurs are coming at you. That real feel is what draws visitors to the IMAX Theater inside the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.
“You feel like you’re in it. It’s beautiful,” said Namrata Haldipur, who drops in often as family and friends visit her from India.
“What value does it add to the experience?” said Haldipur.
It’s a question she asks after learning the Smithsonian will close the IMAX Theater at the end of September.
Smithsonian Will Axe One Of Its IMAX Theaters. What Do Movie Theaters Offer The Region? (The Kojo Nnamdi Show)
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History recently announced plans to close its IMAX theater to make room for a larger cafeteria. Across town, another theater made recent news: the Cleveland Park community successfully fought to save the 22-foot-wide red “UPTOWN” sign on the Uptown Theater, which is operated by AMC. Kojo explores the region’s various types of movie theaters and the value they bring to their neighborhoods and the region at large.
Jonathan Barker, President and CEO of SK Films, discusses the IMAX documentary filmmakers movement to oppose the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s plan to demolish its IMAX theater in order to expand a cafeteria.
Nature and education filmmakers are crying foul over the Smithsonian’s decision to close the IMAX theater at its National Museum of Natural History in order to expand cafeteria space.
Jonathan Barker, whose film “Amazon Adventure” has played in the museum’s Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater since April 2016, said closing the facility is a loss of a unique, educational experience and raises questions about the museum’s dedication to its mission.
Starting September 30, the National Museum of Natural History’s Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater will close indefinitely. It is the largest IMAX screen in the District and one of only two IMAX theaters by the National Mall with the second one located in the National Air and Space Museum. In response to this news, a group of IMAX producers and directors have sent a letter to the museum in protest.
A pair of letters to the editor:
The ill-advised plan to replace the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s superb IMAX theater with an expanded cafeteria shows that this grand institution needs new leadership [“Natural History Museum drops Imax,” Style, July 26]. The IMAX films bring messages home in stunning, unforgettable fashion. To replace the IMAX experience with an expanded “burgers and fries” experience runs so counter to the educational mission of the Smithsonian Institution that it almost sounds like a joke — a very bad joke. Please, shelve this idea and head back to the drawing board to develop another plan that does not yank the beating heart out of the museum. We don’t need a McSmithsonian.