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?

Magnolia's Quinn says the two coasts tend to pull in disparate returns. "New York, for all of our successful titles, does double the business, if not maybe three times the business, compared to LA," he says, citing the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc. and the Tilda Swinton-starring I Am Love as examples.

But Ted Mundorff, CEO of the Landmark chain, dismisses complaints about the financial challenges of the Southern California market. "That doesn't make sense to me. Absolutely makes no sense. Whoever believes that doesn't know anything about Los Angeles," he says, citing Blue Valentine as an example of a film that grossed more in its opening weekend in LA than it did during the same time frame in New York. "A film that has any kind of grossing potential will have both a New York and a Los Angeles run at the same time. They make more money in Los Angeles than they do in New York—I guarantee you that."

*     *     *

The Lido shows 3D versions of
Hollywood blockbusters 
to survive
Jonathan Ho
The Lido shows 3D versions of Hollywood blockbusters to survive
The theater in a Long Beach building that first showed silent movies in 1924 relies on local support to remain open
Jonathan Ho
The theater in a Long Beach building that first showed silent movies in 1924 relies on local support to remain open

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

Trying to build an art/indie community in Anaheim is Damon Rubio, executive vice president of operations with Vista-based UltraStar Cinemas, which operates 15 sites in Arizona and California, including the 14-screen theater it took over last summer from Newport Beach-based Cinemasource in the GardenWalk center near Disneyland.

UltraStar plans to shuffle in more art, indie and crossover films, especially by late April, when its three screens dedicated to 21-and-over patrons (and serving alcohol) are ready to roll. The company's plan, Rubio says, "is to essentially build clubs. We will do it in Orange County. It's been a huge success in Oceanside. These are rabid film-lovers, and if they say, 'Book this film,' we book it."

E-mail alerts keep club members informed about future titles and special events. The approach has worked so well over the past two years in Oceanside that UltraStar now offers a series pass that gets members into 10 films for $40. Rubio says more than 200 passes have already sold, and there are plans to expand the program to Anaheim.

That location includes the latest in sound, picture, 3D, large-screen format and other technological advances. They even have D-Box theater seats programmed to move in unison with the action onscreen. That makes UltraStar a great place to see big-budget Hollywood blow-'em-ups.

But the theater's digital-cinema gear also allows UltraStar to work with unknown web-based filmmakers who essentially broadcast their ultra-low-budget indies that would otherwise never screen . . . anywhere.

"It's affordable for us," Rubio says, "and it gives us great, offbeat stuff."

Being a cinephile, it does pain him to see the closure of small movie houses that were run well, fulfilled a need and had a personal history with him, including one he often drives past in Coronado. It's a bookstore now.

"I loved that theater," Rubio says. "It's nostalgia. But from a business standpoint, you look at it and say, 'Yeah, out with the old, in with the new.'"

*     *     *

It's pushing 10 p.m. on a Friday in January, and the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue in LA is full to bursting, a sellout crowd filling every built-in seat and spilling over into folding chairs. Before the movie runs, Hadrian Belove, executive director of Cinefamily, the consortium that has been programming the theater since 2007, gives the audience some context on what they're about to see.

"We don't show a lot of first-run films," Belove tells the crowd, which looks as though it could have been bussed in en masse from a Silver Lake bar. "But believe it or not, a lot of great films don't get shown in LA. A lot of films that win awards and make critics' lists play for maybe a week in New York and just have one screening here. We felt like it was part of our mission statement to pick a couple of these films a year and give them the run they deserve."

It's the opening night of Dogtooth, Cinefamily's first pick for a one-week slot of a first-run film. Perhaps the most conspicuous 2010 indie release to skip LA, the Greek Dogtooth—a frankly violent, often-hilarious parable about the roles of language and popular culture in social control—won a top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 and opened in New York in June 2010, its Friday-night screening introduced by famous fan David Byrne. A hot topic among the online cinephile cognoscenti, the film garnered strong reviews (it currently holds a 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, four percentage points "fresher" than Inception), but box office was not exactly boffo, and distributor Kino Lorber's attempts to find a local screen met with resistance. Both Landmark and Laemmle say they questioned the film's commercial potential and declined to book it; Richard Lorber says the perception was that Dogtooth "just may be too far out for the LA audiences."

But 2010's local-box-office numbers suggest that "far out" films seem to be doing extremely well. In fact, the bulk of art-house business seems to be happening at two extremes: older-skewing indies such as City Island and Mademoiselle Chambon do well with the traditional, older, west-LA-based audience, while unrated, extreme cult titles are drawing younger crowds from the east side of the city.

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