The Citizen Theater finds a new home in Fort Worth

Symon Cordova

by: Symon Cordova
December 6th, 2010

Amy & James

Today at Gordon and the Whale we are going to shine a bit of light on the happenings of the local Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas. If you have ever been to Austin or read some of the articles about some of the amazing film festivals that take place there, you see that ATX does indeed have great places to go for your art-house, indie flick fix. But very soon we hope to have a little taste of that here in DFW. 

Many of our readers may be familiar with the Spiral Diner, either in Dallas or in Fort Worth. If you have not been, you most definitely should. Before you meat-eaters scoff in disgust at the prospect of a completely vegan cuisine, you must know that I am a meat eater and I love the food. Many of my personal friends have been with me and, as skeptical as they were, they left the Spiral Diner as cuisine converts. And for all those lactose intolerant folks out there (me being one) if you have ever wanted a milkshake but could not have one, the Spiral Diner is the place to go so that you can fill the much-needed milkshake void in your life without spending the evening in stomach distress.

Now, Gordon and the Whale is a movie news site so why am I writing about food? Well, as I hinted earlier about Austin and its amazing film locales, the owner and creator of the Spiral Diners here in DFW is soon giving us a theater. The Citizen Theater to be exact!

Her name is Amy McNutt and she is indeed what has made the Spiral Diners so successful and amazing, so with her upcoming venture into film house, I wanted to ask here a few questions about Who? What? Where? and Why? And she was gracious enough to let me, and now all of you to learn a little about her how much knowledge she truly has about film, and what she is bringing to DFW. 

First off, you have 2 successful diners (The Spiral Diner), and now you're taking on the opening of a theater, what has that process been like?

I decided for sure to open The Citizen about 3 years ago. It had always been something in the back of my mind but I never really had time to full-on dream about it because I was so busy with Spiral. But in 2008 we decided to hand ownership of Spiral Ft Worth over to Lindsey Akey, our longtime manager. At the same time the Dallas location was opened by Sara Tomerlin. Now I work as a "benevolent overlord" overseeing everything and concentrating on the menu and perfecting recipes. This freed me up to work on The Citizen. Without Sara and Lindsey, I never would have the time.

This dream about opening a theater has been on-going for 10 years, how has that journey been?

I have been dreaming of opening a movie theater since my days at USC Film School. Back then my life was completly consumed with film. Aside from watching up to 4 films a day in class I practically lived at the New Beverly Theater in my free time. The New Beverly is an amazing repertory theater that shows double features on 35mm that get rotated every few days.  On top of all this I worked as a projectionist for the film school.  Then I graduated. I worked out in LA on a documentary film for a year and then moved back home to Texas to start Spiral Diner. Helping animals not get eaten was my primary goal so I felt I needed to work on Spiral first thing. Then I met my husband, filmmaker James M. Johnston, and was once again put back in the middle of the film world. Going to festivals for screenings of James' films really made me realize how much I wanted to open a theater. There is so much good stuff out there and despite the demand Ft Worth doesn't have a dedicated art-house theater.

What are some of your favorite films and why? If you have one, also include a film that you love but may be more of a guilty pleasure, one you may or may not be embarrassed about telling someone .

This is a horribly difficult question to answer but just to try and give you a sense of the variety of stuff I want to show at The Citizen, I will oblige. My all time favorite film is The New World. The first time I saw it I could hardly breath it was so beautiful. The Citizen Theater is named after Citizen Kane which is another one of my favorites for about a million reasons. A short list of other favorites is: I Am Cuba, The Muppet Movie, Sunrise, anything Cohen Bros., anything Malick, Singing in the Rain, Baraka, Team America, Anchorman, anything P.T.A.,The Philadelphia Story, anything Chaplin, anything Jarmusch, Contempt, Amaracord, anything Scorsese, Winter Light, and about a billion other films, feature and short length.

Guilty pleasures... Excess Baggage because Benicio del Toro's in it. He's a dream boat. You better believe there is going to be a Benicio retrospective at The Citizen.

Why is The Citizen Theater going to be different from other film houses?

We have visited so many amazing indie theaters all over the country for the last few years and have really learned a lot about how to make The Citizen awesome. There is such a supportive group of theater owners and many of them have been willing to share with us their do's and don'ts when it comes to programming and design. This attention to planning and detail will hopefully put The Citizen up there with theaters like The Alamo Drafthouse, the American Cinematheque, The Loft and all the other top-notch theaters that we love and admire so much.

The best part about The Citizen will be our programming. With two screens we will show a huge variety of new art-house features, shorts and classics. James and I are ingrained in the indie film culture and community. James is constantly out on the festival circuit with his own films and gets to see amazing short and feature films that we can program at The Citizen. We want to constantly be bringing these gems to Ft Worth.

Our primary goal is to make going out to the movies more of an event that is worth more than the price of admission. The theater itself will be so inviting, beautiful and state-of-the-art that we hope it will really encourage people to come out rather than stay at home to watch stuff on their stupid tiny computer. We also want to bring in as many guest speakers as we can conjure up. Being able to do a Q&A after a screening is so much fun and makes every screening so memorable. James and I are film nerds to the core and we can't wait to share our obsession with others.

What is the first film that you want to play there? Do you have a list of films that you are excited about showing there?

We are going to christen the screens with The New World but our first public screening will be Citizen Kane doubled with The Muppet Movie. Our list of films we are excited about is a mile long. Our tastes are VERY eclectic so we plan on showing something for everyone. Our repertory screenings will be themed. So for example, for our first month we want to have a Texas Film restospective in which we will show anything shot in Texas, staring a Texan, directed or written by a Texan or any other round about way we can work films into the Texas theme. But then the next week we might show all Noir or Westerns or b-movies or fancy French films. Or you might come by on Woody Wednesdays when we will rotate different Woody Allen films. It will be all over the map. My background in film history gave me a taste of every genre and I plan to incorporate it all.

How far are you along? When do you plan to have it open and where?

We purchased an empty lot on Magnolia Ave a few blocks from our restaurant in Near Southside, Ft Worth. This means we can build our twin-screen theater from scratch and make the space of our dreams. We are currently in the design/permitting/raising money phase. Construction should start in about 6 months. Then about another 9 months to build. However, opening 2 Spiral Diners has taught me not to get my hopes up about timelines. We are just going to work hard at it and get it open as fast as possible.

Being the kind and community driven individual she is Amy and her husband James are currently seeking individual lenders. It's a really good investment which can earn people up to a 50% return. They are trying to raise as much as possible from individuals. They feel that borrowing from individuals rather than a bank really helps create a community around a project. People have pride in what they have helped create and support it as there own. That is how they were able to open both Spirals and it worked out great for them and their investors. If anyone is interested they can e-mail Amy for more information. [email protected]


Since corresponding with Amy she has sent a letter out with a little more on what The Citizen Theater and surrounding community has to offer.

Hi Film Fans,

We're Bona Fide

It's official! The Citizen Theater is now the proud owner of 1455 W. Magnolia Ave. Right now it's just a big empty lot between Fairmount and 7th Ave but we've got some amazing plans for it. Our design team is working diligently on the layout and pretty soon we'll be able to post some conceptual drawings of our beautiful twin-screen theater. We couldn't be happier to be in the neighborhood that we already live and work in. It's the perfect spot.

Citizen Suggests

To give everyone a taste of what's to come, we've started a weeklyish blog post called " Citizen Suggests". This is a new feature we’re doing as a service to all the film lovers out there in Fort Worth awaiting the opening of The Citizen.

Each week (or a couple of times a month) we'll put together a list of great films coming out for home viewing. Either on DVD, Blue-Ray, Video on Demand (VOD), or via the Internet.  These films represent some of the wonderful programming we plan to bring you when The Citizen Theater opens.  Just imagine, instead of watching these at home on your TV or computer you could have seen them on the big screen with the best picture and sound available projected from 35mm!

Here's this week's post.

Here's the one from last week.

I am so incredibly excited about what The Citizen Theater is going to bring to my beloved DFW! Please check out the site and maybe you can be a part of this beautiful project and support the local movie scene here in Dallas and Fort Worth.

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