Sundance Cinemas Houston opens with a benefit for the LGBT community
by Marene Gustin • Photo by Dalton DeHart
Indie film lovers, rejoice. This month the sun will shine again on the abandoned downtown Angelika Film Center as the Robert Redford-backed Sundance Cinemas moves into the theater and opens on November 23.
But you can get a sneak peak at the $2.25-million renovation—that includes comfy love seats with tables to hold your pop and popcorn—on November 22 at a benefit for the Montrose Counseling Center called Family Drama! GLBT Night at Sundance. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. with a reception featuring craft beer, wine, and specialty cocktails, food selections from the Bar Bistro menu, as well as sodas and popcorn with real butter. The movies begin at 8 p.m. There are only 350 tickets available at $25, and they can be reserved online at montrosecounselingcenter.org. “People can choose which movie they want to see, or just wander in and out of the different theaters,” says Sally Huffer, community projects specialist at MCC.
MCC opened its doors at 900 Lovett Street in 1978. It currently serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community by providing culturally affirming and affordable counseling and social services. “Sundance came to us,” Huffer adds, “and we’re the only GLBT organization among the nonprofits the pre-opening events are benefitting, so that’s a real honor.” Other pre-opening benefits will aid Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston Cinema Arts Society, and Galveston Bay Foundation.
“I came on board after the nonprofits were chosen,” says the theater’s new general manager Rob Arcos. “But I was thrilled Sundance had chosen MCC. I’ve volunteered there and I have friends who work there. So I’m telling all my friends to buy tickets for this one.”
Arcos is a well-known fixture on the local movie scene. When he took over the River Oaks Theatre, he was the youngest manager in the Landmark chain. For a while he ran his own video business—Movies! The Store—and has worked with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Latin Wave Film Festival, the Houston Cinema Arts Society, and was the executive director of Q-Fest, Houston’s Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
Sundance Cinemas Houston is only the third theater in that chain. The other two are in San Francisco and Madison, Wisconsin. “Since my college days at U. of H., I’ve had a special affinity for Houston,” says CEO Paul Richardson. “When my partner, Bert Manzari, and I started operating movie theaters in 1975, the River Oaks was the third theater in our chain. Ironically, at Sundance Cinemas, decades later, the Sundance Cinemas Houston at Bayou Place will be the third theater in our current fledgling chain. Because of the success in Houston we enjoyed over the years at Landmark, we knew the market and jumped at the chance to take over the former Angelika when the opportunity arose.”
Richardson says his plan is to book the eight theaters with hybrid film programming—taking the best of the quality films from Hollywood, playing the top art film titles, and booking a calendar screen with the smaller, more esoteric films. “We believe that combination, along with the ability to enjoy good food and drink in the lobby lounge or at your seat watching the movie, will be well received by grownups in Houston,” he says.
Arcos also thinks the Sundance concept will be well received here, even though the ticket prices will be higher than traditional theaters. “It’s the whole experience of seeing a movie the way it was meant to be seen,” he says. “We have reserved seating, so you can have your favorite seat even if you show up five minutes before the film starts. Plus, we don’t show commercials and only three trailers for upcoming films.”
Not to mention the comfy seats and the fact you can carry your cocktail right into the theaters. And the foods served in the Bar Bistro include local pastries, ice cream, and breads from Houston’s Slow Dough Bakery. “Because it is part of the Sundance brand, we have to balance art, commerce, and the environment,” Arcos says—which means they recycle and support local food producers and artists. There will also be an art wall that will feature the works of different visual artists on a rotating basis.
“What I love best about this job and Sundance Cinemas,” Arcos says, “is being able to share the space with the community. That’s truly what I’m most excited about.”
Marene Gustin is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.