After BAM Rose Cinemas brought the Lincoln Plaza art-house model to Fort Greene two years ago and Regal Cinemas erected a 12-screen eyesore on rapidly gentrifying Court Street last summer (next to a new Barnes & Noble), the face of filmgoing in Brooklyn is about to get another makeover. Two struggling independent theaters were purchased last month and are currently being renovated by Norman Adie, owner of the five-year-old Pavilion Theater multiplex near Prospect Park.
Pumping $1.5 million in renovations into each venue, Adie plans to relaunch the Plaza Twin in Park Slope this Friday as the Flatbush Pavilion, and the Brooklyn Heights Cinema on July 13 as the Brooklyn Heights Pavilion. The former will be a commercial theater while the latter will focus on foreign and independent films, says the Scottish-born Adie, "very much like the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza programming, with a little bit of flexibility. For example, Woody Allen's pictures and America's Sweethearts will go there." Adie also promises a cappuccino bar, "uniforms and hats" on the staff, and "unusual artwork."
But can more cinemas, especially one showing a mix of art-house films, survive in Brooklyn? Just last May, Adie made a pledge to devote at least two screens to specialty films at the Pavilion Theater, but as of this month, the cinema's most independent release is Moulin Rouge.
"Each year, it became more and more difficult," says Delphi Basilicato, who owned the Plaza and Heights theaters for about eight years with partner Jai Singh before selling them to Adie. Both venues showed their share of Hollywood fare, but also trafficked in alternative programming, such as a cycle of Hong Kong action films and bookings like the Reel Alternative Film Salon (a monthly showcase devoted to black, Latino, Asian, and Native American filmmakers).
According to Basilicato, specialized releases of any sort were not the kind of movies that sold tickets in the upscale Brooklyn Heights area. "No matter how artsy-fartsy this neighborhood thinks it is," he says, "what really sustained the theater year after year was the big commercial films."
And when the Regal multiplex moved in, continues Basilicato, "commercial product, which had often supported the theater, was no longer available to us on a regular basis. The Regal basically sucked up 10 out of the top 10 pictures."
But new proprietor Adie isn't worried about the competition. "While the big guys are in trouble building all these multiplexes, I am concentrating on neighborhood theaters," he says. "There's a market for the twins and quads if you just run them right and program them right."
Countering Adie's entrepreneurial optimism is Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of BAM. "You wouldn't see Landmark [Theatres], the largest art-movie presenter in the country, in bankruptcy if it was an easy business," she says. From Landmark to corporate giants like Loews, AMC, and Regal, the industry has seen a particularly difficult year, with theater closings and bankruptcy filings running amok. Another major chain, Clearview Cinemas, abandoned its sole Brooklyn venue last month, selling the historic Cobble Hill Cinemas to an independent exhibitor. So now with both Cobble Hill and BAM screening art-house films, Hopkins says, "I just hope there are enough good movies out there for everyone to survive."
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