The third Wednesday of the month is a highly anticipated night for film buffs. Discover how “Brews & Views” satisfies a niche community in Rockford.
Stan Kiejko has been passionate about movies ever since he was 4 years old and walked into his first movie palace.
“It was this bigger-than-life place, and now you’re watching this bigger-than-life story that’s being projected,” says Kiejko. “I think that just caught my imagination.”
Now that he’s an adult, he’s brought that passion to Rockford by working over the past few years to bring together a community of film-lovers who share his appreciation for the silver screen.
Kiekjo grew up in the Orlando area, where he experienced art house theaters like the Enzian, a well-known “cinema-pub” that offered full dining options while moviegoers watched films.
“I had never seen anything like that before, where it was tables and full-service, and you could eat and watch the movie at the same time,” says Kiejko. “It’s basically a full-service restaurant, more or less, with a movie playing, and that’s the idea that stuck in my head.”
When Kiejko moved to Rockford with his wife, Stacy, in 2007, it wasn’t with the intention to open a movie palace. But the lack of movie options in the Rockford area – particularly after the closing of the Colonial Village movie theater, where independent movies were once shown – brought the Enzian back to the forefront of Kiejko’s mind.
So in 2012, Kiejko spoke with Greg Watt, a board member for The Element – a network of individuals working to help power the growth of Rockford’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
When Watt asked Kiejko what his dream goal would be if he could do anything in Rockford, Kiejko told Watt he’d renovate Rockford’s Midway Theater and reopen it as a retro movie house. The idea piqued Watt’s interest, so he asked Kiejko to draw up a business plan.
A Plan Forms
Kiejko put together a business plan for what he called the Rockford Film Society. Watt told Kiejko the Midway Theater wasn’t within reach, but he wanted to connect Kiejko with The Element’s Ed McCullough, who had experience with the Beloit Film Festival, to see how portions of his plan could be adapted and executed.
“Stan wanted to do two things,” says McCullough. “He wanted to show indie movies and create a market for that in Rockford, and he wanted to start a film community, a membership club.”
Kiejko’s plan was incredibly detailed, including his thoughts on membership, the style of movies they’d show, doing pre-show trailers and hosting post-show Q&A’s.
“If I had everything that I wanted for creating a film society, this would be pie-in-the-sky,” says Kiejko. “This is where I would want to see something go.”
McCullough had experience hosting post-show Q&A’s with film directors at the Beloit International Film Festival (BIFF), so their first attempt at forming the Rockford Film Society was a partnership with BIFF in which they had a couple of screenings at Katie’s Cup in Rockford. Reception was less than lukewarm, with less than 10 people showing up.
“Things don’t fit sometimes,” says McCullough, “and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s just that things don’t match up.”
So, Kiejko and McCullough went back to the drawing board, tossing around other ideas, such as retro movies instead of indie, and seeking a venue that could fit the needs of what was turning out to be a niche idea.
“The idea kind of shut down, and we kind of rethought it,” says Kiejko. “What can we do to hook people in and get a base going, a following?”
The Birth of Cinema-Pub in Rockford
As many things happen in Rockford, McCullough and Kiejko got connected with Chris Manuel, a co-owner of Prairie Street Brewing Co., through what you might call kismet. Their efforts to bring the Rockford Film Society to fruition came up at an unrelated meeting, and Manuel offered Prairie Street as a venue. The public-private partnership was the shot of adrenaline the program needed, and the Rockford Film Society became “Brews and Views.” They debuted in October 2014 with “American Werewolf in London.”
“Prairie Street gave us the best of both worlds to be able to morph this more toward the Enzian Theater, making it a true cinema-pub style program,” says Kiejko. The partnership has allowed Kiejko to put his business plan into action, implementing portions of the plan that enhance the moviegoing experience in the hopes of building an active film society in Rockford.
Since the program launched five seasons ago, Kiejko still volunteers his time spending countless hours putting together the pre-show before every Brews and Views event.
“You kind of want something that sets the tone for what we’re trying to do,” says Kiejko. “With retro, I try to take everybody back to the opening night of when this film actually premiered in the theaters, so I’ll run a pre-show that has all the movie posters from the year that film came out, and I’ll also select movie music from that year as well, so that everybody’s being put into that mindset.”
That means Kiejko researches and compiles the movie trivia, trailers and posters to put together the pre-show for attendees to enjoy before every show. If you’ve ever been to a Brews and Views screening, you might also recognize Kiejko. He runs the show, from pre-show trivia all the way to tear-down at the end.
Attendance at Brews and Views has grown to about 30 people on average. But some special showings, like “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” averages about 90 attendees and usually sells out of presale tickets.
“It’s resonated with a certain niche of the Rockford community,” says McCullough. “We hit the niche with the partnership with Prairie Street Brewing. They came in and were willing to be the house, provide the sound, provide the screen, help with marketing. They were willing to take a risk to do it. I really, deeply appreciate Chris Manuel and his partners at the Brewhouse.”
The film society that Kiejko was hoping to create is starting to grow organically. Brews and Views now has regulars who come early before the movies begin and stay to chat with each other after the movies end.
“There’s a bunch of people who didn’t know each other beforehand who are starting to see each other every month,” says Kiejko. “It’s been neat to see.”
You can catch Brews and Views the third Wednesday of every month from September through April at Prairie Street Brewing Co. Some of this season’s movies include the 1968 version of “Night of the Living Dead” on Oct. 17, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” on Dec. 19, “Spaceballs” on Jan. 16, and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” on Feb. 13. Single tickets are $5, and 20 season passes are available for $35 each.
You can purchase tickets online or at the door. Get more information at theelementrockford.com/brews-views or facebook.com/elementrockfordfilmseries.