History of the Film Program

The IHP programming of today and recent history is best known for its world-class international, avant-garde, and repertory cinema, as well as documentaries and lectures that seek to increase awareness on important global issues in the arts and humanities. The roots of this successful programming can be traced back to an opportunistic partnership born in 1976, which eventually led to city-wide events and initiatives that are still active today.

Looking back, the early 1970’s proved a tumultuous time in IHP’s past. Due to an inability to reach full occupancy of the 450 available rooms, the high cost of heating and cooling the enormous facilities of the new building, and a revolving door of administrative staff, it seemed as if IHP had overestimated its ability to fulfill the financial obligations of the new building. Fortunately, with an active, caring, and involved Board that refused to give up the nearly 75-year-old institution and the good fortune of having Program Director (and later President) Ellen Davis on staff, IHP was able to gain financial and public footing once again. In 1976, Ms. Davis made the bold move to donate IHP building space to the established Neighborhood Film Project (previously of the Christian Association) and the Folklife Center of Philadelphia, under the condition that they split the profits from ticket sales for events held in the International House facilities. This tactful decision allowed International House to develop unique public programming that engaged not only an international audience, but a community audience as well. The partnership helped to cultivate respect and reverence locally, and led to increased funding for further development and programming. Three years later, in 1979, the Neighborhood Film and Video Project and International House Philadelphia merged, preceding fantastically successful programs that allowed for greatly needed projects and facility upgrades. This newfound artistic identity within Greater Philadelphia, and expansion on a legacy of goodwill, is what continues to set IHP apart from other International Houses throughout the world.

While IHP is no longer home to many of these early programs, our history continues to inform our current identity and is a valuable element of the institution’s past. We invite you to discover more about the history of art, culture, and programming at IHP by visiting our permanent historical exhibit that is open to the public.

Programming Timeline:

October - November 1974: The first International Cinema film series takes place at IHP.

March 31, 1978: A leader of the New German Cinema movement, filmmaker Wim Wenders visits IHP during screenings of his films The Wrong Move, Kings of the Road, and Alice in the Cities. Wenders answers questions in a special presentation moderated by film programmer/historian/professor Amos Vogel.

July 1, 1979: The Neighborhood Film Project and International House Philadelphia officially merge. IHP provides office, storage, and exhibition space for the NFP, who bring the entirety of their increasingly-renowned programs to Hopkinson Hall.

1979: The Philadelphia Independent Film Video Association (PIVFA) was founded as part of the NFP. PIFVA was a local resource group that encouraged film and video-makers and offered shared resources, experience, and networking. It was a program at IHP until 1998. In 2002, the program was started again and is now a non-profit organization hosted in an office at the Scribe Video Center.

1981: The Neighborhood Film Project is renamed, becoming the Neighborhood Film/Video Project.

March 19, 1986: The first Festival of Independents (originally known as the Philadelphia Independents Showcase) is held at IHP. The Festival of Independents was created to showcase film and video works by local and regional filmmakers, and later was included as a sidebar in the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema.

1989: The NFVP launches the impressive exhibition Latin American Visions. Bringing together essential, classic, and rarely-seen films from Central and South America, the 80-program exhibition includes a 59-page catalog that was widely read and distributed. The NFVP also created new prints of five films previously unavailable in the US. These prints are now part of the MOMA Circulating Film Library.

1992: The NFVP organizes the first Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema (PFWC). Forty films were screened, some at other venues including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Free Library. At this time, the NFVP has 13 staff members and 11 University of Pennsylvania work-study students working on the programs.

1997: Following the departure of Linda Blackaby, the NFVP moniker is retired. The film program is now organized under the name International House Arts Center.

2001: TLA Entertainment assumes management of the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, which IHP previously founded and administered. International House would remain a venue for the festival (renamed the Philadelphia Film Festival in 2003) for many years. Ultimately the film program undergoes a reset back to its original programming aesthetic and structure.

September 19, 2008: Following a new renovation with a major gift donated by S. A. and Nina Ibrahim, Hopkinson Hall is renamed the Ibrahim Theater. A new, retractable seating system is the main upgrade of the renovation. The grand opening screening is John Cassavetes’ Faces (1968), shown in a new 35mm restored print.

February 2012: A new, state of the art Barco 2K digital cinema projector is installed in The Ibrahim Theater, providing high quality HD digital projection, and the first step toward the new industry-standard digital projection compatibility.