The State of the Art House

When it comes to hip indie film theaters, OC is no LA—but LA is no NYC. Why not?

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The Lido was built on Newport Beach's Lido Peninsula the same year as the Music Hall, and its operators work hard to maintain the single-screen movie house's vintage look. Paintings, carved moldings and even the curtain appear museum-quality. The box office in front of the double-doored entry is still used, and though smoking is not allowed indoors, the smoking parlor in the women's restroom remains. Though not all the building's tile is original, it is made by the same family. Similar theaters closed their balconies years ago due to safety concerns, but at the Lido, the balcony remains open.

More difficult than keeping the look is keeping the seats filled, however.

The Art Theatre's Jan Robert Van Dijs and the Landmark's Mark Cuban
Jonathan Ho
The Art Theatre's Jan Robert Van Dijs and the Landmark's Mark Cuban

Location Info


Art Theatre of Long Beach

2025 E. 4th St.
Long Beach, CA 90814

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Long Beach

Lido Theatre - Newport Beach

3459 Via Lido
Newport Beach, CA 92663

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Newport Beach

Edwards University Town Center 6

4245 Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 92612

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Irvine

UltraStar's Ultraluxe Anaheim 14

321 W. Katella Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92802

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Anaheim

"The art business for films is very cyclical," says Lyndon Golin, whose Regency chain owns the Lido. "It's now lower than it has been, and that's partly due to the product available and the economy. People used to invest in pictures like this. But it always comes back."

He says most of 2010 was rough for Regency's theaters that show art, indie and foreign films, including Edwards South Coast Village in Santa Ana and Regency Niguel in Laguna Niguel. Fortunately, the year "ended strong" thanks to Black Swan, The King's Speech and The Kids Are All Right.

"The end of the year saved it," Golin declares. "The King's Speech was very much needed."

"It's really a struggle in this market for a one-screen theater," says Matthew McCartney, a Lido manager who joined the staff two years ago. "It's a hard game to play."

It's what led the Lido, which joined the Regency fold in 2001, to make a major programming change a year ago. With a new sound system and 3D projectors, the theater routinely presents blockbuster movies, such as the latest from the Shrek and Toy Story franchises in 3D this past summer. Another week, the Lido will shift back to "major" independents, which are generally those with high-profile names, studios and distributors attached. "They are marketed exactly like independents to keep that crowd," McCartney says.

Denise Gurin is leery of that strategy. She's the senior vice president of film and head of CinemaArts for the Knoxville, Tennessee-based Regal Entertainment Group, the nation's largest theater circuit, with 6,705 screens in 540 theaters in 37 states and the District of Columbia. One of those theaters is Edwards University, arguably the most successful presenter of art and independent films in Orange County. Gurin programs the Irvine theater out of her Woodland Hills office.

"I've seen Lido change its programming quite a bit," Gurin says. "They'll do 3D stuff, and then bounce back to independent film. If you are bouncing back and forth, you don't have a loyal following. It's hard if you're not consistent. If you're showing alternative, indie stuff, you don't suddenly throw up Clash of the Titans."

She believes consistency is the secret to Edwards University's success.

"It's been programmed the way it has for years," she says. "When Regal merged with Edwards about nine years ago, we made sure we continued doing the art down there. There is a loyal following, and people know it."

The six-screen theater in the Town Center shopping center across the street from UC Irvine is coming off one of its best years in recent memory, according to Gurin.

"We do very well," she says. "University is very popular in Orange County—with audiences, filmmakers and distributors."

Regal nurtures the indie and art-house crowd through CinemaArts, which maintains a special website and sends out quarterly programs and e-mail blasts to followers.

"This is a very cyclical business," Gurin says. "One year, everyone is crying, and the next, it's alive and well."

At the same time, she understands the challenges of overseeing single-screen theaters, seeing as how she also programs those as Regal's West Coast chief. "I do know it's more difficult," Gurin says. "I have single screens, twins, five-plexes, all the way up to megaplexes. I know the whole canvas."

Besides University, she'll send indie titles over to the eight-screen Edwards Westpark across town.

Art and indie films generally always open in New York and LA first before expanding to other cities weeks later. University has built such a solid rep that some open in Irvine that first week as well. It's also used quite often for test screenings; don't be surprised if you bump into indie mogul Harvey Weinstein at one.

The University's success comes at the expense of the single-screen Art Theatre in Long Beach, according to Jan Robert van Dijs, the urban developer who co-owns the historic building on Fourth Street that opened in 1924 as a silent-movie house before its 1934 Art Deco makeover for the talkies.

"Long Beach is often six weeks or more behind LA and Orange County, which means that if it is an art film with a narrow audience, many people have already taken the drive to LA or Irvine before we can even get the film," van Dijs says. "This issue alone will often keep us from showing a film we would otherwise like to show. It's very hard for our audience to understand this, as they see the ads in the paper and wonder why we are not showing a specific film that would otherwise be perfect for us.

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