Point Cinemas is gunning for Sundance.
I mean, it’s not quite that personal. But it seems pretty clear that Marcus Theatres, which owns both Point and Eastgate Cinemas in Madison, is looking at the success that Sundance and other arthouses have had in other markets, and are looking to replicate that success in their theaters. Which is an interesting move for the nation’s sixth-largest movie chain — can they bring that boutique feel to a building that has 16 screens?
Sundance and other theaters (particularly in the Landmark chain) have upped the ante for the moviegoing experience with more inviting exteriors, including lounges and alcoholic drinks that you can bring into the theater. So Point responded with the swanky new Take Five lounge, which looks nothing like a snack bar and everything like a hotel lounge, with a full bar.
Now Marcus (and Point) seems to be going after Sundance’s kind of programming with its Theatre Entertainment Network. Marcus has had such success with non-traditional types of programming (live theater, Rifftrax broadcasts, one-night-only screenings) that they’ve dedicated one screen at Point and Eastgate to this kind of fare, at least on weekdays. That also means limited runs of independent movies — the French-Canadian comedy “Starbuck” is playing once a day at Point and Eastgate through Thursday. And it means classic films — “Animal House” is also screening there through Thursday. They also have a series of comic short films, the “LOL Short Film Festival,” playing through Thursday.
Next week brings the indie drama “Between Us” and Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” for limited runs, while the horizon shows the Mads Mikkelsen drama “The Hunt” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” It’s kind of a grab bag (there’s also a Kirk Cameron special and a Paul McCartney & Wings concert in there somewhere), but Marcus can afford to experiment. In the days of 35mm film, it would have been unwieldy to have one-time-only showings of films, since it takes so long to change reels. In the age of digital, it’s just a matter of playing this file instead of that file. And with most of the movies costing $5 (special events are invariably more), it’s a good deal for audiences as well.
Whether audiences will respond is another matter — it seems strange that movies show at different times on different days, making it perhaps harder for viewers to plan to see one of the films. Sundance has had success at building a loyal following of older, pickier customers who will only see movies at Sundance — can Point do the same thing and also appeal to the masses? In any event, it’s a good thing that good movies will get a chance at theatrical distribution, and if Marcus thinks showing independent and classic movies is a sound business strategy, that’s great — one less screen showing “Getaway.” This is an interesting move worth watching.