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?

"Movies such as Human Centipede, Enter the Void or Trash Humpers—those are three of the five marquee indie films that are gonna happen all year, the biggest non-studio events," Belove says. All three of those films started at the Nuart; all except for Trash Humpers did well enough that they moved on to Laemmle screens farther east. "They're big enough that someone will get in the car and drive [from the east side] to the west side. Dogtooth is the kind of great movie that should be a regular staple of an urban center's viewing experience, [but] maybe hasn't achieved the same kind of marquee status."

With their shabbily inviting hideout vibe and eccentric, largely repertory programming, Cinefamily has steadily built a loyal audience. Attendance grew 37 percent in 2010—remarkable considering that its Silent Movie Theater home is located in more or less the same general area as both the saved-by-Quentin Tarantino New Beverly Cinema and American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theater (which, according to Gerber, has seen nightly average ticket sales skyrocket from 150 in September 2009 to 250 in January 2011, in part thanks to an increased presence on Facebook). In an extraordinarily tough climate, all three theaters are thriving by peddling unique brands of programming, despite the fact that their proximity theoretically puts them in direct competition with one another.

But perhaps their main competitor isn't even a theater at all. "Has technology ended up killing this kind of moviegoing?" wonders Marcus Hu, president of LA-based specialty distributor Strand Releasing. "Are they all just waiting patiently to watch everything on Netflix Watch Now?"

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

Similarly, Richard Lorber speculates that the problem may be less geographic than generational: "The question is whether the young hipsters, so to speak, are actually interested in seeing films like Dogtooth. We're all hopeful, new venues are great, [but] the question is just whether 20-somethings who grew up with the Internet really want to go to the movies. It's going to be interesting [to see] if the filmgoing culture is sustainable in these new communities."

Speaking before Dogtooth's opening night, Belove had faith. "Hipsters are poor, and hipsters know how to download, so maybe that makes them harder to get. But on the other hand, these are the most curious, active people. If something is new and interesting, they'll show up. I've seen it."

In five shows at Cinefamily that weekend, Dogtooth grossed $6,640—less than $50 off the film's opening-weekend total in New York, where it had many more screenings. In its full, weeklong run at Cinefamily, Dogtooth grossed more than $16,000—and that was from just one or two shows per day, compared to the three to five shows it played in New York and other markets. That enormous success probably had something to do with timing—the second week of January was the perfect time to capitalize on Dogtooth's placement on many critics' year-end best-of lists––but it's also unquestionable evidence that it is possible to bring an obscure art film with cult cachet to LA and attract a young audience whose evangelism to friends via social networks such as Twitter can keep a house nearly full all week long. As a result of Dogtooth's success at Cinefamily, Laemmle scheduled a series of weekend morning shows at its theaters in Pasadena and Santa Monica, which may benefit from the unrelated fact that the film was shortly thereafter shortlisted for the Foreign Language Film Oscar. Suddenly a film that for so long was a victim of the unique challenges in the LA market is now the embodiment of how to face those challenges smartly—and win. As Kino's Gary Palmucci wrote in an e-mail once the final totals for the week were in, "We may have to rethink this whole LA exhibition scene."

This successful first-run experiment could point to a future path for Cinefamily. "Because LA's so spread out, and a lot of the distributors are New York-based, it's harder for them to work LA's weird market," Belove says. "So maybe a function that we're going to have is to help them spread the word to the people who would be interested."

Of all the word-spreading via Twitter occasioned by the Cinefamily run, one post-opening-night micro-missive from @spinenumber408 best summed up the sense of celebratory relief that a film such as Dogtooth could fill an LA house: "The turnout tonight for DOGTOOTH at @cinefamily is proof that we, in LA, sometimes can have nice things."

"The reality is that [when] we do play these films and they don't do well, that sends a message—to us, to distributors," Greg Laemmle says. "It will have serious repercussions in the sense that it isn't going to improve the situation for the films that we didn't get to, and it's going to potentially lead to a more serious situation."

The first step to improving that situation? Simply showing up.

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