MSP Film at The Main acquires St. Anthony Main movie theater, plans new programming and renovations

MSP Film at The Main acquires St. Anthony Main movie theater, plans new programming and renovations

Leyden Streed, Associate Arts Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental for independent businesses. Artistic businesses and organizations that rely on the public have particularly struggled to survive, and movie theaters have been no exception. Before the pandemic, theaters were already experiencing the threat of streaming services that provide a plethora of movies available to watch with the tap of a finger. However, the pandemic has brought an entirely different set of challenges. Theaters that survived were forced to close down for months, or even an entire year. 

Despite the setbacks of the pandemic, some theaters are hopeful that movie lovers will return to theaters as soon as it is safe. One theater that is undergoing some exciting new changes in anticipation of the resurrection of movie theaters is St. Anthony Main, soon to be MSP Film at the Main. St. Anthony Main theater, located on the historical SE Main St facing the Mississippi river, has been a beloved part of the St. Anthony community since 1985. 

Its location is unmatched, which is why the theater first caught the eye of the MSP Film Society. The MSP Film Society, founded in 1962, is the Twin Cities’ main film exhibition organization. The MSP Film Society has been using St. Anthony Main as its venue for the annual Minneapolis International Film Festival (MSPIFF) for around 13 years. They were able to take advantage of St. Anthony Main’s five screens to provide an immersive film festival experience. 

Along with being a venue for MSPIFF, for about 10 years the MSP Film Society has been using one of St. Anthony Main’s screens everyday to show mainly international, independent and documentary films. 

When the MSP Film Society was ready to take the next step in acquiring their own headquarters, St. Anthony Main was an obvious choice. Jesse Bishop, the programming director of the MSP Film Society, has been involved in the planning of the new theater, and is excited for the film society to finally have a place of their own.

“We’ve long dreamed of having our own location,” Bishop said. “It was a little bit of an identity crisis, operating out of a multiplex that isn’t our own, so we worked out an arrangement with the owner over the past year in which we’ll take over operations of the whole space and rebrand it as MSP Film at The Main.”

The plans for the new MSP Film at The Main include architectural renovations along with an emphasis on films traditionally shown by the MSP Film Society. However, the MSP Film Society intends on maintaining its community aspect by showing a wide range of films.

“Going forward we’ll be showing the same kinds of movies we’ve shown for the past 60 years, but we’re also a neighborhood theater so we won’t shy away from occasionally showing blockbusters,”  Bishop said.

The MSP Film Society hopes their unique mix of film types will be an attraction for their theater. They intend to be inclusive of those who want the opportunity to see independent films that would not be offered in just any theater, as well as those who are looking for a more traditional movie theater experience. 

Along with serving as a regular theater with daily showings, the MSP Film Society wants to integrate events for the community to see what goes on behind the scenes when a movie comes to theaters.

“Going to the movies I think for most people is about a little bit of escapism, being entertained, hanging out with friends or whatever, and that’s totally the environment we want to continue to have,” Bishop said. “Then of course there will be opportunities to dive deeper and have guests or film makers there to have interactions with the audience members and just talk about either the subject matter of the film or making the film.”

The theater is currently undergoing its first renovations since it was established in 1985. The MSP Film Society is working on integrating the classic aspects of the theater, along with modernizing its outdated aspects by finding the intersection between modern and historic. The ambiance of the theater will be maintained: parts such as the exposed brick will be enhanced by a more open space and new flooring.

One unique aspect of the renovations is implementing more social spaces within the theater, where moviegoers can meet together after the films and discuss what they viewed. These spaces are meant to foster community and offer a unique theater experience, where people are encouraged to dive deeper into the creative aspects of film.

The new plans for MSP Film at The Main are an example of how theaters are adapting to the changing film culture; they are finding new ways to draw people away from their computers to experience the immersive and interactive environment of a theater.

“I mean there’s no escaping the reality that we all live, the experience of having access to untold amounts of movies at home is never gonna go away,” Bishop said. “But at the same time I could talk from my own experience and just anecdotally, you get kinda sick of doing the same thing over and over, so we hope people will want to return.”

The MSP Film Society is planning on finishing the majority of renovations in time for the 41st annual MSPIFF this spring, using the theater for the venue of the festival for the first time since the pandemic began. Previously, to accommodate social distancing protocols, the MSP Film Society added a mix of both virtual and outdoor film showings. The festival will take place in May, offering virtual screenings along with the in-person screenings in the newly renovated MSP Film at The Main. 

For more information on the upcoming festival, or ways you can volunteer, check out


[email protected]