New kid in town The open­ing of Vi­o­let Crown’s en­ter­tain­ment com­plex

Vi­o­let Crown’s en­ter­tain­ment com­plex opens

Pasatiempo - - HAPPENING IN MAY - Robert Nott

Film­maker and film pa­tron Joe Bai­ley loves go­ing to Vi­o­let Crown’s four-screen fa­cil­ity in Austin. “It’s like a lo­cal pub where the topic of con­ver­sa­tion is film.” Yes, Vi­o­let Crown Santa Fe has a bar. And a restau­rant. And a pa­tio with out­door seat­ing for eat­ing and drink­ing. And large re­clin­ing chairs in the the­aters. You can eat be­fore, dur­ing, or af­ter your movie. Bill Banowsky, who co­founded Mag­no­lia Pic­tures more than a decade ago, opened Vi­o­let Crown in Austin in 2011. On Fri­day, May 1, Vi­o­let Crown Santa Fe opens with an 11-screen com­plex in the Rai­l­yard that can ac­com­mo­date about 730 peo­ple: Ten au­di­to­ri­ums with dig­i­tal pro­jec­tors have about 60 seats each, while one larger one, which as both a dig­i­tal and a 35mm pro­jec­tor, has 150. One of Banowsky’s dreams is to ul­ti­mately have a 70mm pro­jec­tor.

Among its open­ing-week­end film show­ings are the big-bud­get ex­trav­a­ganza Avengers: Age of Ul­tron (in both 3-D and 2-D); Wim Wen­ders’ The Salt of the

Earth, which ex­am­ines the life and work of Brazil­ian pho­to­jour­nal­ist Se­bastião Sal­gado; and the art-house film Clouds of Sils Maria, which stars Juliette Binoche as an aging actress. Vi­o­let Crown will also screen Dis­neyna­ture’s Monkey King­dom, which fol­lows the life of Maya, an in­de­pen­dent-minded monkey, and her new ba­bies as they try to sur­vive in the jun­gles of Southeast Asia.

The com­bi­na­tion of Hol­ly­wood ac­tion movies, in­de­pen­dent art-house films, ti­tles aimed at kids, and any­thing else au­di­ences might want to see is what Banowsky is count­ing on — along with gourmet pizza and 30 taps dispensing a ro­ta­tion of re­gional beers. Add in the abil­ity to go on­line and re­serve seats well in ad­vance, and it’s most likely Santa Feans will keep com­ing to see movies in the Rai­l­yard. There’s also free park­ing for up to four hours, cour­tesy of the Rai­l­yard Com­mu­nity Cor­po­ra­tion, which is hop­ing the perk will at­tract more peo­ple to both Vi­o­let Crown and other re­tail­ers in the Rai­l­yard.

“We want to of­fer an out-of-home ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing to din­ner, hav­ing a glass of wine, hav­ing a glass of beer, and see­ing a movie,” Banowsky said dur­ing a tour of the 34,000-foot fa­cil­ity, which cost about $10 mil­lion to build. The com­pany will em­ploy about 60 peo­ple — peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate about film, he said. Hav­ing 11 screens will let Vi­o­let Crown leave a theater or two va­cant for a while so it can gauge which ti­tles are sell­ing and which ones aren’t, Banowsky ex­plained. A popular pic­ture could jump quickly to other screens in the com­plex, while one that isn’t sell­ing tick­ets could be dropped within days.

For Santa Feans, news of Vi­o­let Crown’s open­ing ends years of spec­u­la­tion and wait­ing. The idea of hav­ing a movie house has been part of the Rai­l­yard’s vi­sion for re­de­vel­op­ment ever since the city bought the land more than 20 years ago. Over the years, a num­ber of en­ti­ties and peo­ple (in­clud­ing Richard Brandt, who once ran the Jean Cocteau Cinema, lo­cated steps away from the heart of the Rai­l­yard, and Mocte­suma Es­parza, of Maya Cine­mas) en­tered into talks to build a theater there. In the spring of 2013, the Santa Fe Rai­l­yard Com­mu­nity Cor­po­ra­tion, a non­profit that over­sees devel­op­ment and main­te­nance at the Rai­l­yard, also col­lect­ing rents from ten­ants, voted to ne­go­ti­ate with Vi­o­let Crown.

Banowsky, who is work­ing on build­ing a third Vi­o­let Crown com­plex in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, said the Santa Fe theater is mod­eled on the suc­cess­ful Austin project. He said that, in the his­tory of movie houses, there have only been three ma­jor changes: a switch from sin­gle-screen cine­mas to mul­ti­plexes, the in­tro­duc­tion of sta­dium seat­ing, and the re­cent con­ver­sion from film to dig­i­tal.

But with so many other forms of en­ter­tain­ment com­pet­ing for pa­trons’ at­ten­tion, the­aters have to con­tin­u­ally adapt and grow, he said, “to make it bet­ter than other com­pet­ing ex­pe­ri­ences out there in movie the­aters.” His in­ten­tion is not to put any Santa Fe movie houses out of busi­ness. He thinks Vi­o­let Crown’s pres­ence will in­crease at­ten­dance at cine­mas all over town. “We don’t want to see any theater suf­fer based on our be­ing here.” That said, Vi­o­let Crown Santa Fe brings the movie-screen tally up to 35 in a county with about 148,000 res­i­dents, ac­cord­ing to 2014 cen­sus es­ti­mates.

It’s un­clear whether Re­gal Sta­dium 14, based on the south side of town, or Re­gal DeVar­gas, the six screen house in the DeVar­gas Cen­ter, are ner­vous about the new player. Re­gal En­ter­tain­ment Group’s me­dia di­vi­sion did not re­turn a call seek­ing com­ment for this story.

Santa Fe is also home to three sin­gle-screen in­de­pen­dent houses: The Screen at the Santa Fe Uni­ver­sity of Art and De­sign, the Cine­math­eque at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, and the Jean Cocteau Cinema, which is now owned by au­thor Ge­orge R.R. Martin. While the man­agers of those three cine­mas ex­pressed hope­ful op­ti­mism that all will re­main well, they also stated some con­cern about po­ten­tial fall­out down the line.

“There is no way that hav­ing an­other 11 screens down­town would not cause some sort of chaos,” said Peter Gren­dle, gen­eral manager of The Screen. “Some are dread­ing it and some are cel­e­brat­ing it.” But, he said, “I don’t see Vi­o­let Crown in­vad­ing The Screen. As a sin­gle-screen theater, we do one thing, and we do our very best to do that very well. Be­ing a sin­gle-screen en­tity, we only need so much. We can man­age with one em­ployee at a time, for ex­am­ple. We can af­ford to play the art-themed, less-com­mer­cial movie.”

Ja­son Sil­ver­man, direc­tor of CCA’s Cine­math­eque, said Santa Fe al­ready has more movie screens per capita than any­where else in the U.S. “It’s al­ready the most crowded mar­ket­place in the coun­try. And we have Re­gal, The Screen, the Jean Cocteau, CCA, and now Vi­o­let Crown all com­pet­ing for the same films.” He said Vi­o­let Crown’s pro­gram­mers have been “hugely ag­gres­sive in seek­ing the kinds of ti­tles that CCA and The Screen have been play­ing for years.” But, like Gren­dle, he said CCA has its own mission and that, as the only non­profit cinema in town, it will con­tinue to show films that “help make Santa Fe a bet­ter place.”

Jon Bow­man, who man­ages the Jean Cocteau and who has seen movie houses come and go, said there’s no doubt that an­other cinema will make it more dif­fi­cult for the­aters to at­tain some ti­tles from dis­trib­u­tors. He said Vi­o­let Crown could also cut into Santa Fe’s au­di­ence base. How­ever, he added, more films are be­ing made ev­ery year — thanks to the ad­vent of dig­i­tal me­dia — which means there are more ti­tles to choose from, an abun­dance that could off­set that im­pact. “Even though the com­pe­ti­tion grows, each theater in Santa Fe al­ready has a niche, an iden­tity. Dis­trib­u­tors know that. Au­di­ences know that.” Bow­man said he doesn’t see Vi­o­let Crown af­fect­ing Re­gal Sta­dium 14, The Screen, CCA, or the Jean Cocteau.

Banowsky said Vi­o­let Crown has told the ma­jor dis­trib­u­tors that it doesn’t care if they also screen their films at other Santa Fe cine­mas. Ef­forts to reach rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Mag­no­lia Pic­tures and Land­mark Films for com­ment on the dis­tri­bu­tion is­sue were un­suc­cess­ful.

Banowsky grew up in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia — “around the film in­dus­try” — but never saw him­self work­ing in the movie busi­ness. He prac­ticed law for 10 years be­fore mov­ing into ac­quir­ing ra­dio sta­tions. In 2000 he found him­self “with­out any­thing to do ... so I had the free­dom to imag­ine what I wanted to do.” So a year later, he and Ea­monn Bowles started Mag­no­lia Pic­tures, a film-dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany. Banowsky later helped run Land­mark The­atres, vis­it­ing many of the coun­try’s art-house cine­mas dur­ing that time. That, in turn, led him to pon­der how he could cre­ate a small chain of cine­mas of­fer­ing any­thing and ev­ery­thing pa­trons might want, in­clud­ing food and drink. (Be ad­vised that there isn’t any wait ser­vice in the cine­mas at Vi­o­let Crown, so food must be or­dered be­fore the show and eaten in the theater on a tray.)

Banowsky’s wife, Su­san — a vo­ra­cious reader — came up with the name Vi­o­let Crown, which is in­spired by the writer O. Henry’s use of the term to de­scribe the city of Austin in a story about a French de­tec­tive, Tic­toq. How­ever, its ear­li­est ori­gins date back long be­fore, in ref­er­ence to Athens, Greece.

Banowsky said Santa Fe is the per­fect venue for the sec­ond Vi­o­let Crown project. “It has a lot of con­nec­tion to the film in­dus­try here, there are a lot of Academy vot­ers living here, and there is no ques­tion in my mind that it is a good film town — maybe a very good film town. We think we can help make it a great film town.”

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