It’s about time.
Los Angeles is getting its first new art-house multiplex in a long while. This positive development will at least help fill the void left when the Beverly Center cinemas shut down and the Laemmle theater chain abandoned the Sunset 5.
In fact, the new Sundance Sunset Cinema is taking over the latter venue in West Hollywood at the southeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights.
After a nine-month renovation, Robert Redford’s Sundance Cinemas is set to open to the public this Friday, August 31. This venture does not come without some major risks for the still-nascent indie theater chain, however.
Monday evening I went to an opening party that the Sundance Institute hosted to show off the new digs. The place certainly looks great and the renovation has given all five screening rooms very comfortable stadium seating.
It has also opened up the lobby and adjacent patio space for audience members to hang out with fellow moviegoers and share thoughts over a glass of wine.
Yes, that’s right, wine, beer, food and a plush setting will be among the amenities used to coax art-film lovers back to the five-plex they jilted a number of years ago in favor of the Arclight a few miles to the east. After 4 p.m., adult moviegoers may even take alcoholic beverages into certain screening rooms designated +21.
The bar scene worked at the Arclight and is now being replicated at other venues — not just around L.A. but across the U.S. This will also mean higher admission fees, of course, and nothing will change the notorious parking problems in that Sunset complex.
As he stood in the crowded lobby jammed with well wishers, Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper said he hopes the new complex will be a way of bringing the Park City festival to Angelenos who don’t head for Utah each January.
But he also admitted: “It won’t be easy.”
When the Arclight opened a decade ago along with its restaurant, bar service, book store and higher ticket prices, the Sunset 5 ultimately lost a lot of business. Audiences got out of the habit of traveling to the Sunset 5, opting instead for the Arclight where mainstream and foreign films compete with indie offerings.
Also the Arclight has arguably one of the best parking situations among L.A. cinemas and offers validations that considerably reduce the parking tab.
Sundance Institute director Keri Putman told me the Sundance Sunset is the fifth multiplex the chain has opened. The others are in San Francisco; Houston; Madison, Wis.; and Seattle.
After the reception, the Sundance Sunset showed five movies that represent the kinds of films it hopes to play.
These were Neil Berkeley’s “Beauty is Embarrassing,” Lance Daly’s “The Good Doctor,” Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s “Detropia,” Ira Sachs’ “Keep the Light On” and Josh Radnor’s “Liberal Arts.” The latter three debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
As might be surmised from this list, the Sundance name will certainly attract filmmakers and distributors. Yet it remains to be seen if the multiplex will land major indie or foreign films as the Arclight routinely does.
One can only hope the added amenities and allure of a glass of wine at the new cinema complex’s upstairs art gallery will attract patrons.
One problem here though: I actually stayed to watch a movie which put me well past the three-hour time limit for parking validations. I was hit with a $7.50 fee for those extra minutes. Such stiff fees will certainly mitigate against the “hang out” factor the food and drink service wants to promote.
And the parking lot is still a major drag.