Cinema Paradiso

Posted online: January 2018

Ready for its close-up


What a transformation! The Riviera Theatre, now owned and operated by the nonprofit Santa Barbara International Film Festival,, reopened in September with a gorgeous renovation that has turned it into a state-of-the-art movie-lovers’ venue. It took nine months and cost $5 million, but patrons can now sink happily into the 328 roomy red plush seats, snack on artisanal treats, and watch films stunningly projected on a Dolby Vision system with Dolby Atmos sound emanating from 52 speakers. Notes SBIFF executive director Roger Durling, “There are not many movie theaters in the country with this system and we’re one of the few nonprofits.

“We run it like an art house,” he adds, “and show documentaries and foreign films. There are no plans to bring the festival up here. That needs to be concentrated downtown. But we can use the theater for year-round screenings and other special programming. 

“I always wanted the film festival to have a year-round home,” says Durling, “but this has exceeded my expectations. What’s bittersweet is that this was a special property for Michael Towbes,” who didn’t live to see the result. “He told me he wanted someone to take care of the theater. This is above and beyond my dreams.” 2044 Alameda Padre Serra, Santa Barbara, 805-963-0023. Joan Tapper

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