The first Peoria Film Noir Festival was held at the downtown Peoria Public Library and the Peoria Women’s Club in 2003. It got its start when the library’s former PR director, Maggie Nelson; Wanda Phillips, head of the art and music department; and Steve Tarter of the Peoria Journal Star got together to plan a special week-long celebration.
Nelson had met Eddie Muller, founder of the Film Noir Foundation and author of numerous film noir books who holds his own star-studded film noir festival every spring in California, and arranged for him to speak at the fest alongside Chicago author Jim Doherty.
Just one of the many theaters that would serve downtown Peoria, the Apollo Theatre opened on Main Street in 1914, replacing the Crescent Theater that burned to the ground two years earlier. With seating for 900, the Apollo was not one of the city’s grand theaters like the Palace, Madison or Rialto, each of which sat over 2,000 people. It showed movies until 1958, a time when theaters began their inexorable retreat from urban centers across America, slipping into suburban settings or TV-inspired oblivion.
The construction of the Niagara parking deck (so named because the Niagara Hotel was once located there) displaced the Apollo’s main floor, but attorney Tom Leiter and wife Barb restored the theater balcony in 1990. The addition of a stage, screen and some 150 seats, along with a refurbished interior, marked the arrival of a second life for the theater.
Over the years, the not-for-profit entertainment center has been home to drama, music and special events, and classic films have become a regular attraction. Thanks to Illinois Central College, a DVD projector now provides a 21st-century touch to the oldest active theater in Peoria.
“I’ll always remember our programs at the historic Women’s Club,” recalls Tarter. “The second-floor auditorium had been virtually unused since it was closed off in 1970. A great winding stairway leads up to the old room, with its raked stage, peeling paint and chipped plaster—what a spot for noir!” Subsequent festivals have been held at the Apollo Theatre, but with a little refurbishing, the club auditorium remains a great spot for future shows.
This year’s festival has a San Francisco theme, the setting for all five films (although D.O.A. reverts to Los Angeles later in the film). San Francisco is the third great “noir city” in the United States, behind New York and L.A. (Chicago is probably fourth).
Save the Dates!
The Peoria Public Library will kick off the Film Noir Festival at 6:30pm on October 14th at the Lakeview Branch, with a free showing of Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo (1958), featuring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. The remainder of the festival will unfold at the Apollo Theatre, 311 Main St. in Peoria. All shows start at 7pm, with a suggested donation of $5/adults and $4/seniors and students.
FRIDAY October 15th
The Sniper (1952) Arthur Franz, Adolphe Menjou, Marie Windsor
SATURDAY October 16th
The Lineup (1958) Eli Wallach, Robert Keith
FRIDAY October 22nd
Dark Passage (1947) Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall
SATURDAY October 23rd
D.O.A. (1950) Edmund O’Brien
Bullitt (1968) Steve McQueen
Visit apolloinpeoria.com or call (309) 673-4343 for more information. a&s