Mission / History

Mission / History

The Jacob Burns Film Center is a nonprofit cultural arts center dedicated to: presenting the best of independent, documentary, and world cinema; promoting 21st century literacy; and making film a vibrant part of the community.


Rome Theater facade installation in the late 1940s

The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) began in 1998 when a group of individuals interested in creating a cultural arts center in Westchester County purchased the old Rome Theater in Pleasantville, New York. The Rome Theater, a beautiful Spanish mission-style, historic landmark building built in 1925, was one of the first movie theaters in Westchester County. Opened during the golden age of cinema, the New York Times called it "The Show Place of Westchester County." It was an active cinema, showing films until 1987, when it closed its doors due to competition with neighboring multiplexes. The group, led by founder Stephen Apkon, secured the building and an adjacent lot, formed a nonprofit organization (originally known as The Friends of the Rome Theater), and launched a $5 million capital campaign to build the Film Center. Early on, the campaign received a $1.5 million grant from the Jacob Burns Foundation. The Film Center received its name in honor of this leadership gift.


JBFC Ribbon Cutting, June 2001, with (from left)
Executive Director Steve Apkon, Glenn Close,
Ang Lee, Paul Schrader, Westchester County
Executive Andy Spano, Janet Maslin
and director Francis Veber.

Since the JBFC opened its doors to the public in June 2001, more than two million people have seen over 4,500 films from every corner of the globe. Over 100,000 students have participated in our education programs, more than 50% of them from underserved communities throughout the tri-state area. Their participation, including transportation, is funded entirely by the Film Center, thanks in part to support from individuals, foundations and corporations.


At the Media Arts Lab grand opening, students
of all ages learn about the various courses offered.

Our education programs are grounded in 21st century literacy skills, including critical viewing and production. These skills are essential for a generation growing up in a world in which media and technology is increasingly the way we participate in community, and engage in democracy and the global economy.


Media Arts Lab Ribbon Cutting, with (l. to r.) Arliss Howard, Debra Winger,
Barry Shenkman, Janet Maslin, Steve Apkon, David Swope, Art Samberg,
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, John Nonna, Bernard Gordon, and Janet Langsam.
Photo: Lynda Shenkman Curtis

The demand for these programs led to the $20 million Campaign for 21st Century Education to build the Media Arts Lab and further curriculum development. Launched in November 2006, the campaign was successfully completed in December 2008. A 27,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility, the Lab is equipped with 16 editing suites, a recording studio, a soundstage, a 60-seat screening room, an animation studio, a large Center Studio, and four small studios. Our faculty presents dozens of courses in multimedia storytelling for children, teens, and adults.

Our newest educational initiative, the Project for International Understanding Through Film, was launched with a $1 million planning grant from Kathryn W. Davis, a well-known philanthropist, and supporter of the Film Center. The Project utilizes film, visual media and the Internet to create a global community through cross-cultural understanding. The grant was also used to purchase a residence at 5 Grant Street in Pleasantville for filmmakers from the international community.

From a group of individuals with a dream, the Jacob Burns Film Center has developed into a 47,500 sq. foot, three-building campus located in the heart of Pleasantville, New York.

Click Here for a timeline of highlights of our first 10 years, including video clips of special guests.