The Austin Chronicle

Short Cuts

By Marc Savlov, April 12, 2002, Screens

"But It Doesn't Even Have Stadium Seating!-- Dept.: The closure of Regal Entertainment Group's flagship Arbor 7 Cinema in the Arboretum last month has resulted in more than Austin losing one of its favorite arthouse cinemas -- it's also created a mad scramble between opposing exhibitors and theatre chains angling for a slice of the arthouse market, which, not coincidentally, is the only slice worth biting these days. While the rest of the theatre industry continues to suffer from a moribund financial outlook and the occasional spate of Chapter 11s, the smart money's betting on upstart chains like Landmark (owners of the local Dobie Theatre), Dallas-based Magnolia Theatres, and "community entertainment venue" Madstone Theaters/Films/ Digital Distribution Network. As we mentioned a few months back, Regal had originally been eyeballing the site of the former Great Hills 8 Theatre. Now word comes down -- or rumor, actually, since everyone's official comment on the brewing brouhaha is, of course, "no comment" -- that Regal may be close to backing away from the Great Hills, while newcomers Madstone, Magnolia, and Landmark fight it out in one big moviehouse melee. If the well-respected Landmark could pull it off, they'd have a lock on Austin's notoriously rabid cineaste crowd, with first-runs presumably at the new venue and smaller films and events at the existing Dobie. Adding an element of suspense to the proceedings is the fact that Landmark and Magnolia have a particularly bitter rivalry growing from the ever-competitive Dallas market. Madstone Theaters' Director of Operations Dave "I love Austin!-- Anderson wouldn't officially go on record saying that Madstone was looking at the space per se, but he did say that "We'd love to come into Austin at some point in the future." Most interesting about Madstone is the fact that their film branch -- which actively seeks out first-time directors to help finance and produce -- is overseen by Boys Don't Cry producer Eva Kolodner. In addition, Madstone is also seeking to outfit its theatres with digital projection systems -- something every theatre in the U.S. and beyond is going to have to do in the next few years. "We're very community-oriented," says Anderson, "in the sense that we try very hard to work with local organizations in each community we enter. Things like the local film society, filmmakers and artists, and other important elements of the local culture, whether it's a symphony or a cool club or whatever." The word on the street is that a decision on who -- or what -- may become the new arthouse in town could come as early as this week, although -- big surprise -- no one's saying much of anything else. Stay tuned.

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