West Philly film center becomes ‘Lightbox’ to stand out more from International House

The International House. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The International House. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s longest-running, year-round art house cinema is changing its name.

What had been known as Film at International House, near the University of Pennsylvania campus in West Philadelphia, is now dubbed the Lightbox Film Center.

The rebranding marks a move for more independence.

For almost 40 years, Film at International House has been programming art, foreign, and documentary film and video in the Ibrahim Theater at I-House. That is not changing.

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The International House serves as many things — a residence; a music venue; an art gallery; and a social space for foreign students. The name change to Lightbox Film Center is meant to make the film program more distinct from all the other onsite activities.

“Over the years, we’ve mounted ambitious programs, ramped up the number of screenings. We’ve tried everything to have this film program be a crucial resource for the region,” said curator Jesse Pires. “But we felt that, in order to increase audience and visibility, we needed to differentiate from the rest of the organization.”

This is not the first time the film program has changed its name. It began in the 1970s as the Neighborhood Film/Video Project. It was absorbed into I-House in 1979, becoming Film at International House.

Pires has been there from the beginning.

“I worked here as a student at Temple, I volunteered for the Philadelphia Film Festival. My parents used to come here in the late ’70s, early ’80s, with me in tow before I could even read,” said Pires. “I’ve spent a lot of time in this building.”

Pires believes most Philadelphians who are aware of International House know it because of the film program. The calendar of screenings — which had been awkward to find online via the International House website — now has its own branding, web page, and Facebook page under the name Lightbox Film Center.

“We recently received a grant from Andy Warhol Foundation, and we’re funded by the Wyncote Foundation,” he said. “Having these very high-profile funders recognize what we do and recognize its value, it seems like a good time to reflect on what we’re doing and figure how to make it more visible and more valuable.”

The Lightbox Film Center is still based at International House. Pires, who hopes the name change will foster new partnerships with other organizations, said there are no plans to relocate.

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