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Trouble for small theaters

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Give the independents a few lousy Oscars and they think they can compete with the big boys. Even in the art-house world, ”Multi-screens are killing off single-screen theaters,” says Gary Angell, manager of the downtown Manhattan indie temple the Angelika. ”If you go to a single-screen theater and the show’s sold out, you’re stuck.” As megaplexes threaten to swamp the multiplexes, so too new competition is coming to the art-house circuit.

Taking its cue from the success of Cambridge, Mass., nine-plex, City Cinemas (thanks to a joint venture between its parent company, Pacific Theaters, and the Reading Corp.) snapped up the six-screen Angelika and its ”latte lobby” for $12 million last July. City now plans a multi-screen indie house in Houston as the first of its non-Big Apple ventures.

Meanwhile, Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford is talking with exhibitors about expanding his indie empire to include a chain of art-house multiplexes. Though the Sundance Group’s Director of business development, Trevor Macy, says the endeavor ”is just in the exploratory phases,” the group is reportedly in discussions with Sony-owned Loews Theatres Corp., which already has a joint megaplex venture in L.A. and Atlanta with another famous name, basketball great Magic Johnson.

Indie filmmakers have mixed feelings on such developments. ”I’m very loathe to give up that single marquee,” says director Henry Jaglom (Eating). ”But the truth of the matter is there are more screens for art product.” And more cities: Potential Sundance multiplex sites include San Francisco, New Orleans, and Miami. Given the horrendous overcrowding in the libraries and hotel ballrooms that serve as makeshift screening rooms at Redford’s January festival, indie producer and author John Pierson has one idea for Redford’s inaugural venue: ”If [Sundance] can actually build a complex,” he says, ”they should do us all a favor and start in Park City.”

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