February 14, 2003
The Crystal Theatre is up and running again with the help of some friends at the University of Montana's Wilderness and Civilization Program.
The students help with advertising, take tickets, make popcorn and sell organic sodas and cookies from local bakeries. It's a project meant to bring the local community together, not only for the Crystal's sake, but for the sake of continuing to address important global and local issues with the films that are shown.
"It's a way to extend the learning they've done to the greater community," said Nicky Phear, a wilderness and civilization program instructor.
The Wilderness and Civilization Program is a yearlong program that integrates classroom learning and field study to educate students in wilderness policy, ecology, economics and Native American studies. They go on trips all over western Montana, immersing themselves in the surroundings they study.
They also work for a local non-profit organization.
"We try to engage them with the community," Phear said.
Each spring semester the students do a service project that is "consistent with the ideas and philosophy of the program," she said.
This year, that means volunteering at the theater so the New Crystal, a non-profit organization that has run it in the past, can continue to bring more alternative, educational and documentary films to Missoula.
In July, New Crystal decided not to rent the theater seven days a week as it had been doing. For awhile they showed films at the Roxy, then worked out a deal with Shirley Juhl, the owner of the Bridge/Crystal building, to rent it four nights per month.
Peter Nelson, one of 15 wilderness and civilization students, is the theater's director. He recruited the other students in the program, "seeing it as a great way to interact with the Missoula community," Phear said.
"It was sad for a lot of them that the Crystal would be gone," she said. "So they're reviving the alternative theater in town. It's really about importance of community and place."
Phear added that the relationship with the students and the theater isn't going to last forever, but for now it gives the New Crystal more time to find funding.
"By no means is it gone, or dead," said Juhl, who has owned the building for 31 years. "It's more diverse," she said. She now rents it out to various groups for things other than films.
"There are things happening all the time."