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.
George R.R. Martin