the flow­er­ing of Santa Fe’s cine­mas


Santa Fe has an em­bar­rass­ment of riches when it comes to the movies. With the ar­rival of the Vi­o­let Crown com­plex and its 11 the­aters tucked into the Rai­l­yard, the num­ber of screens in town comes to some­thing like 35, which works out to a screen for about ev­ery two thou­sand cit­i­zens.

That seems like a lot. And you do begin to won­der if there’s a sat­u­ra­tion point. Cer­tainly the es­tab­lished the­aters in town will be cast­ing a wary eye over their shoul­ders at the new con­tender. But au­di­ences aren’t com­plain­ing. Santa Feans love their movies, and each of Santa Fe’s movie houses has its own dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter and de­voted fol­low­ing.

As they used to say back in the 1950s, when movie the­aters were fac­ing the threat of an­other in­truder — tele­vi­sion – “Get more out of life. Go out to a movie!”


“When you’ve got new com­pe­ti­tion com­ing in,” Brent Kliewer, founder of The Screen (on the Santa Fe Uni­ver­sity of Art and De­sign cam­pus), told Pasatiempo, “the best thing is to just let it all set­tle in and see what hap­pens. What you’re go­ing to see in the first month or so is ‘Viva Vi­o­let Crown!’ It’s like a shiny new car. But let’s be real — they’re show­ing The Avengers. How many screens do you think The Avengers is go­ing to take up? Ev­ery­one thinks, 11 screens — that means 11 dif­fer­ent movies. That’s not the way it’s go­ing to work. The Avengers is go­ing to take up prob­a­bly six screens. Prob­a­bly sev­eral in 3-D and a cou­ple in 2-D.”

Peter Gren­dle as­sumed the du­ties of manager when Kliewer moved his base of op­er­a­tions to Ok­la­homa City, and he feels the bur­den of the leg­endary shoes he’s stepped into. “It’s hard, man,” he said. “I started as a stu­dent in Brent’s classes. He’s one of those teach­ers who re­ally changes your per­spec­tive on film. So I begged him for a job, and fi­nally I got it.” Gren­dle runs the theater’s day-to-day op­er­a­tion while Kliewer con­tin­ues to pull the pro­gram­ming strings.

Sprawled in his clut­tered of­fice, wear­ing a Screen T-shirt that states, “I’d rather be watch­ing ob­scure world cinema,” Gren­dle de­scribed The Screen’s phi­los­o­phy as com­bin­ing ed­u­ca­tion and en­ter­tain­ment. “Em­pha­sis on art films, with no re­stric­tions on coun­tries of ori­gin. So it’s all about the global pop­u­la­tion cre­at­ing art films for the last 115 years, and hand­pick­ing the best, as good cu­ra­tors should. De­liv­er­ing it in the best pos­si­ble man­ner to the best pos­si­ble au­di­ence.” That au­di­ence, Gren­dle said, comes in with jus­ti­fi­ably high ex­pec­ta­tions: “I re­quire you to take me on an emo­tional jour­ney. I give you 10 dol­lars, and I want you to put me in a dif­fer­ent emo­tional state.”

He ad­mit­ted to some con­cern about the new com­pe­ti­tion. “They picked the best darned theater in Amer­ica to build [in the Rai­l­yard]. They do a lot of Screen ti­tles and CCA ti­tles. They do art cinema very well.” Kliewer is un­fazed. “We’ll be play­ing stuff that they will never play,” he said. “One of our big draws is our per­for­mance pro­gram­ming — op­eras, bal­lets, the Bol­shoi, the Paris Opera — the things we do ev­ery other Sun­day.

“We’re also do­ing this se­ries called Films to See Be­fore You Die. Th­ese are beau­ti­ful restora­tions. They don’t re­ally have a sin­gle, uni­fy­ing con­cept be­hind them. It’s just — when was the last time you saw this great film on a big screen? Cool Hand Luke — I’ve been want­ing to show Cool Hand Luke for­ever! All I can think of is, ‘What we have here is a fail­ure to com­mu­ni­cate’: One of the great lines of all time!” The Screen has no fear of a fail­ure to com­mu­ni­cate. Vi­o­let Crown has a café and a beer and wine li­cense. But The Screen, bow­ing to popular de­mand, has re­cently in­stalled an old-fash­ioned pop­corn stand, rem­i­nis­cent of the one in the ven­dor scene in the Marx Broth­ers’ Duck Soup.

“We won’t be chang­ing our ap­proach,” Kliewer said, “be­cause most of the things they’re get­ting will be things that [Re­gal] DeVar­gas and [Re­gal] Sta­dium 14 would get. I’m not short on ma­te­rial.” Gren­dle agreed. “I like where we’re at right now. Ti­tles are, ab­so­lutely, the num­ber-one thing. And that’s what we do ev­ery day: We put out a great movie. And you can also buy our cool T-shirts and pop­corn.” — Jonathan Richards

Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts Cine­math­eque

“We have a very spe­cific mission,” Ja­son Sil­ver­man, direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts’ Cine­math­eque, told Pasatiempo as he pointed it out in the non­profit’s an­nual re­port, which states, “The Cine­math­eque’s mission is as fol­lows: The CCA Cine­math­eque cel­e­brates the movies in their many forms, us­ing films and videos to deepen our ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the art of cinema to pro­vide a thought-pro­vok­ing gath­er­ing place for Santa Fe au­di­ences and broaden our un­der­stand­ing about cru­cial is­sues of the day.”

CCA prides it­self on its in­volve­ment with the com­mu­nity. “In the last seven years, we’ve had some­thing like 155 com­mu­nity part­ners. Pretty much ev­ery school in this town, ev­ery non­profit in this town, na­tional not-for-prof­its, mu­se­ums, busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tions. Ev­ery­one comes here and does their pro­gram­ming.”

The Cine­math­eque seeks out ma­te­rial that it hopes will open its au­di­ence to what’s go­ing on in the world, both in ex­po­sure to for­eign cul­tures and to do­mes­tic is­sues that get short shrift in the me­dia (science de­niers come un­der scru­tiny in Mer­chants of Doubt, a doc­u­men­tary cur­rently show­ing at the theater). “Over the last four years, I think we’ve shown 18 of the 20 doc­u­men­tary Os­car nom­i­nees and some­thing like 13 of the 20 for­eign-film nom­i­nees. What a lot of the best film­mak­ers are do­ing now is telling sto­ries that have sub­stance and nu­ance, show­ing us the world in ways that are sur­pris­ing, un­ex­pected, inspiring, trou­bling. That changes us and gives us a dif­fer­ent way of see­ing the world. There’s not a week that goes by that we’re not show­ing films of sub­stance. If you do that enough, and peo­ple see it, you can make the com­mu­nity a bet­ter place. And that’s what we’re here to do.”

Live per­for­mance is a spe­cial part of what CCA uses to add to the ex­pe­ri­ence of the movie­goer. Last year the Cine­math­eque part­nered with St. John’s Col­lege for its Au­teur Se­ries, show­ing films by eight leg­endary film­mak­ers, and the pro­gram will be back this year. “We’re start­ing off with a live per­for­mance by Hank Troy, of Den­ver, ac­com­pa­ny­ing Char­lie Chap­lin’s Gold Rush,” Sil­ver­man said. “We’re show­ing City Lights that week­end, then we’ve got live per­for­mance with (Buster Keaton’s 1926 clas­sic)

The Gen­eral the next week. We’re do­ing Ros­sellini, we’re do­ing Or­son Welles.” The ac­com­pa­ni­ment

to The Gen­eral will be pro­vided by the Santa Fe Pop-Up Choir, which Sil­ver­man de­scribed as “live im­pro­vi­sa­tional; it’s called con­duc­tion — you have a con­duc­tor who’s giv­ing sig­nals. And the au­di­ence mem­bers can par­tic­i­pate too. There are go­ing to be vo­cal­ists, mu­si­cians, and prob­a­bly spo­ken word, and Molly Sturges will be di­rect­ing them to cre­ate a soundscape for the movie as it goes on.”

Th­ese pro­grams aren’t easy to pull off, but Sil­ver­man thinks they’re worth it. “Last year we did a full af­ter­noon of re­stored Chap­lin si­lent films with live ac­com­pa­ni­ment, and it was packed all af­ter­noon. We did 11 short films, and six of them had live ac­com­pa­ni­ment. We’re do­ing stuff like that all the time. It’s time-in­ten­sive and ex­pen­sive to do, but it’s be­come a re­ally popular part of our pro­gram­ming. When­ever we do live mu­sic, we usu­ally sell out the house. We work at be­ing a real part of Santa Fe, be­ing part of the com­mu­nity. And we’re a non­profit, so no­body’s mak­ing any money on this. We’re in this be­cause we love the work we do, which is to connect with peo­ple and make them think about what’s re­ally im­por­tant. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we show up ev­ery day.” — J.R.

Jean Cocteau Cinema

The clos­est theater to the new Vi­o­let Crown is the Jean Cocteau Cinema, re­opened in the fall of 2013 by lo­cal au­thor Ge­orge R.R. Martin. But the Jean Cocteau isn’t too wor­ried about the com­pe­ti­tion. “Of course it will im­pact us,” said theater manager Jon Bow­man, “but not nec­es­sar­ily in a neg­a­tive way.” Bow­man con­cedes that the big box-of­fice draws tend to go more to the mul­ti­plexes than to the smaller the­aters like the Cocteau. “A big block­buster pic­ture like Star Wars, Juras­sic Park ,or The Avengers should be play­ing some­where on the north side and some­where on the south side,” he said.

But adding an ad­di­tional 11 screens to Santa Fe makes the strug­gle for fea­tures, even at the smaller venues, more com­pet­i­tive. “There are prob­a­bly 50 or 60 dis­trib­u­tors,” Bow­man said, “with more be­ing added day by day, it seems, be­cause the num­ber of pic­tures has in­creased. We work with a se­lect group of dis­trib­u­tors. But films are be­ing re­leased to smaller the­aters in or­der to ex­per­i­ment with au­di­ences.” The Cocteau shows films in all gen­res, in­clud­ing indie, for­eign, and art-house fea­tures — but it adds more prom­i­nent, big-bud­get pic­tures to its lineup when­ever pos­si­ble. “We’ve got Mad Max:

Fury Road com­ing for a cou­ple of weeks in May. We’re prob­a­bly the only theater in the coun­try show­ing Mad Max: Fury Road, fol­lowed im­me­di­ately by The Apu Tril­ogy.”

The theater sells pop­corn of course, but now has a bar too. Its lobby dou­bles as an art gallery with ex­hibits, cu­rated by gallery direc­tor Sam Hao­zous, sched­uled as much as two years in ad­vance. The Cocteau hosts book sign­ings, read­ings, and other au­thor events, as well as live mu­sic and per­for­mances. And it’s the only place you can see Game of Thrones in ad­vance of its lat­est sea­son’s pre­miere on HBO, thanks to Martin, who wrote the fan­tasy se­ries (A Song of Ice and Fire) on which the popular TV show is based. Though Martin can oc­ca­sion­ally be spot­ted in the au­di­ence, ac­cord­ing to Bow­man, the au­thor spends most of his time th­ese days work­ing on The Winds of Win­ter, his next book in the se­ries.

Be­gin­ning in 1976, be­fore it was the Jean Cocteau, the build­ing housed the Col­lec­tive Fan­tasy Cinema, owned by Lynne Co­hen, Rich Szanyi, Anne Lewis, and Mary Hetler. In 1983, Brent Kliewer took over the theater and gave it its cur­rent name. The theater closed in 2006 while un­der the man­age­ment of Trans-Lux Cor­po­ra­tion. Af­ter serv­ing as the lo­ca­tion for the New Mex­ico Film Of­fice, the theater sat empty from 2010 un­til 2013, when Martin pur­chased it. The 132-seat venue con­tin­ues to screen films on a 35mm pro­jec­tor, though most of its ti­tles are pro­jected dig­i­tally. “When we took over the hall, I wanted to get rid of the 35mm be­cause it takes up so much room in the booth,” Bow­man said, “but I’m kind of glad I didn’t. We don’t use it very of­ten, but when we do, it’s some­thing spe­cial.” The cinema re­cently screened the sci-fi epic In­ter­stel­lar in 35mm.

Bow­man se­lects most of what’s shown, but Martin is known to weigh in. “When we showed Ab­bott and Costello Meet Franken­stein, that was Ge­orge.” The eclec­tic mix of films the Cocteau of­fers is one of the hall­marks that dis­tin­guishes it from the other cine­mas around town. Bow­man sees no rea­son to change that model. “We’ll con­tinue to show a va­ri­ety of pic­tures, in­clud­ing for­eign, indie, and art-house ti­tles for our au­di­ence and de­mo­graphic.” The Jean Cocteau was one of a se­lect group of in­de­pen­dent the­aters that last De­cem­ber screened the con­tro­ver­sial com­edy The In­ter­view af­ter most ma­jor U.S. theater chains re­fused to do so. — Michael Abatemarco

Re­gal DeVar­gas and Re­gal Sta­dium 14

In 2013 Re­gal En­ter­tain­ment Group’s DeVar­gas Cen­ter cinema, one of the two Re­gal the­aters in town, al­most went the way of the drive-in when there was talk that its lease might not be re­newed. Back then, all of its six the­aters showed 35mm films. But the prob­lem is that fewer and fewer movies are be­ing pro­duced in 35mm for­mat, so the Re­gal DeVar­gas lost out on first-run fea­ture films, which went in­stead to the Re­gal Sta­dium 14 com­plex on Cer­ril­los Road. In the end, Re­gal did re­new the lease, also up­grad­ing all its booths for dig­i­tal pro­jec­tion to in­crease the num­ber of films that can show there. With its DeVar­gas and Sta­dium 14 venues, the com­pany has tar­geted two large de­mo­graph­ics in Santa Fe. Sta­dium 14 caters more to younger au­di­ences and to fam­i­lies, typ­i­cally screen­ing the big-bud­get block­busters and kid-friendly en­ter­tain­ment. Mean­while, the lo­ca­tion in DeVar­gas skews to an older group of pa­trons, show­ing (along with the Jean Cocteau Cinema, the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts’ Cine­math­eque, and The Screen) the kinds of off-beat indie fare that add up to a stag­ger­ing range of op­tions for the art-house crowd.

Re­gal’s 14-screen venue opened in 2007 in a build­ing large enough to ac­com­mo­date week­end floods of movie­go­ers. Its open­ing pos­si­bly pre­cip­i­tated the decline of the United Artists North and South cine­mas (also owned by Re­gal) at the Santa Fe Place Mall; both had closed by 2011. Re­gal has re­mained the big player in town, but the open­ing of Vi­o­let Crown brings se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion. The lat­ter, one of four com­pa­nies propos­ing to build a cinema in the Rai­l­yard, beat out pro­pos­als from Re­gal, Ul­tra-Star Cine­mas, and Maya Cine­mas. Austin-based Vi­o­let Crown is of course smaller (thus far, it op­er­ates a cinema in Austin and is just now launch­ing its lo­ca­tion here) than Re­gal (a pres­ence in more than 40 states, with 7,000 lo­ca­tions world­wide) and will have to com­pete ag­gres­sively with the mega-busi­ness for main­stream ti­tles. Re­gal En­ter­tain­ment Group’s rev­enue for the fourth quar­ter that ended Jan. 1, 2015, was $799.1 mil­lion. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the com­pany could not be reached for com­ments about the open­ing of the new theater. — M.A.

Ja­son Sil­ver­man

Peter Gren­dle

Ge­orge R.R. Martin

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