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Holiday 6 Folds…

Cinema Center still standing

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2005-11-28


The story has all the makings of a Hollywood thriller. You have the powerful heavy using strong-arm tactics and intimidation, an unsuspecting populace subjected to a cynical experiment, and a “little guy” struggling to hold on to years of hard work in the face of corporate greed.

Last year in an article called “Do You Know What Really Drives Me Nuts About This City…,” the Fort Wayne Reader looked at a handful of general complaints we heard about Fort Wayne. One of them was that it seems to take forever for smaller, independent films to get here.

As we said in the article, we’re hardly art-flick snobs here at the Fort Wayne Reader. Dinosaurs run amuck and alien invasions are solid staples of our cinematic diet. Nevertheless, we appreciate movies that are new, different, and subtle, where plots are driven by character, the jokes don’t bash you over the head, and violence has real world consequences.

Apparently, we’re not the only ones who feel this way, so when Holiday 6 in Northcrest shopping center made the switch from second-run theater to showing first-run small, independent and foreign films in November of 2004, a lot of people were happy about it. After all, Holiday 6 is owned by Regal Entertainment Group out of Knoxville, TN (they also own Coldwater Crossing), a giant in the industry with more than 6,000 theaters across the country. They wouldn’t switch from a second-run dollar operation to an “art house” without first determining there was a sizeable market for that sort of thing here, would they?

And what did that mean for Cinema Center, Fort Wayne’s not-for-profit movie theater that had been bringing independent, foreign, documentary, classic and specialty films to the area since 1976?

It didn’t have to mean anything. There’s a concept in business called “growing the market,” which basically means that being the only game in town isn’t necessarily a good thing. According to this concept, two organizations in town showing and promoting independent, foreign, and non-mainstream films should ideally build a bigger audience for that kind of cinematic fare among the community. With eight screens, there’s plenty of space for interesting, non-mainstream flicks in Fort Wayne, audiences for those movies get a wider choice, and everybody’s happy. Right?

But that’s not the way it worked out, and the story behind it is an interesting example of what can sometimes happen when the “big boys” decide to enter a marketplace. Healthy competition is one thing, but Regal Entertainment’s strong-arm tactics didn’t give Cinema Center the chance to actually compete. They deliberately used their clout as one of the biggest theater chains in the country to make it difficult for Cinema Center to book movies. “Regal was very aggressive with the distributors in saying, ‘we’re the big guys in town, and we want what we want, and until we’ve passed on it, don’t book it with anyone else’,” says Catherine Lee, Director of Cinema Center. “They made it almost impossible for us to book what we wanted.”

Lee had spent years building relationships with distributors that enabled Cinema Center to nab a few “scoops” in the past, like The Blair Witch Project while it was still the most talked about movie in the country, and Lost In Translation soon after its release, only to have those connections deliberately undermined. “They (Regal) told distributors not to book with us until they had run a title or they had passed on a title,” Lee explains. “And I’d say ‘well, that’s hardly fair.’ But they (the distributors) would say ‘look, I can’t spend any more time arguing about Fort Wayne. It’s just too small a market, and if I don’t give Regal what they want in Fort Wayne, they’ll hold me hostage in larger markets in my territory.’”

Regal went so far as to hold on to some releases if they knew Cinema Center was planning on bringing a film back. Ladies In Lavender, a film set in 1930s Cornwall starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, ran for months at Holiday 6. Lee says that Cinema Center did good business with the movie, but as charming as an unpretentious film like Ladies In Lavender might be, Lee doubts Holiday 6 did enough business with it to justify its extended run.

But Regal’s commitment to Fort Wayne, as far as Holiday 6 goes, was never really all that serious in the first place. One source who asked not to be named says that such a change is Regal’s standard operating procedure for locations which aren’t doing so well, and it usually signals the beginning of the end. The down-at-the-heels Holiday 6 wasn’t bringing the crowds in like the shiny, new(ish) Coldwater Crossing or the Rave. Plus, Carmike theaters out on Dupont were about a year away from entering the market. Regal simply changed the kind of movies they offered at Holiday 6, but made no other renovations or changes to the way business was done there. First-run movie theaters make the bulk of their money off concessions, and audiences for smaller independent films don’t like barrels of popcorn and mammoth-sized slurpies along with their character-driven plots. Also, efforts by the Holiday 6 management at creating community-related special events were hampered by a company edict forbidding them to speak to the media — something that hampers promotion.

Whether or not Fort Wayne was even a market that could sustain a six-screen, first-run “arthouse” theater is also doubtful. We are not in the top 40 markets across the country for movie presentations.

So, when they didn’t turn a profit in a year, Regal shut down the experiment, a six-screen in Fort Wayne, Indiana not making a big enough blip on Regal Entertainment’s radar as something worth cultivating.

Meanwhile, Cinema Center was able to hold on by doing what it has done for nearly 30 years — focusing on educational and specialized programming, and digging a little deeper for interesting, non-mainstream movies, even while Regal made it difficult for the organization to book the kind of general interest titles they count on to pay the bills every year. “Regal booked titles from the obvious distributors, like Warner Independent and Sony Pictures Classics, so that let us seek a lot of things under the wire,” Lee says, mentioning an acclaimed documentary from this past summer called Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. “It’s this G-rated documentary about a guy keeping watch over a flock of wild parrots in San Francisco. This is distributed by a family business out in Maine. It made enough money to get on the radar, but not on (Regal’s) radar. This film was so sweet and so touching. It was the perfect kind of Fort Wayne movie — heart-warming, about an eccentric fellow and his intense, prolonged curiosity with these wild parrots. Man did we have an audience for that.”

Lee adds that things have changed in the marketplace since last year. “There are 20 more screens in the market now. None of the multiplexes are devoted to independent films really, but they’re going to pick up quality independent titles, and they have more room to do that since Carmike opened. It’s still a very competitive situation, but I think it’s actually genuinely competitive now.”

For more information about Cinema Center and Cinema Center Tech, visit www.cinemacenter.org

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