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Friends know that I have long lamented the sorry state of cinema venues in Washington. Perhaps I was spoiled when I lived in L.A., but I thought this was the nation’s capital. We should be ashamed at the dearth of decent movie houses and venues for film festivals. The problem goes way beyond the decrease in midnight movies described in “Midnight Madness” (3/7).
When Loews Georgetown opened, the Washington Post speculated that it might hurt ticket sales at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. or Mazza Gallerie, about three to four miles uphill. Can Washington be that uninterested in what film has to offer?
At least Georgetown and Mazza have good seating and sound. The Outer Circle, Dupont Circle, and Inner Circle cinemas, to which limited-release films have been relegated, are atrocious, more like shabby living rooms with old seats and projection TVs. Small and shabby is chic for a revival house, but not for a first-run cinema charging first-run prices.
There are some lights at the end of the tunnel. Landmark’s Bethesda Row has been a welcome addition, Cinema Arts in Fairfax isn’t bad and charges less, and Visions fills a need for independent cinema despite meddling with the experience by adding a distracting bar/cafe in front.
Maybe it’s as one interviewee commented in the article: Washingtonians have little time for or interest in film. But we know it is most certainly not an early-to-bed, early-to-rise townit’s a ghost town at 7 a.m., while bars are packed ’til the wee hours. Maybe movies don’t provide as much entertainment as alcohol? Still, one would think the international milieu, the museumgoers, the cultural events in the city, and the claim to be capital of the free world would all translate to better cinema options. Instead, we have to wait weeks to months for films released earlier in New York and L.A. and then choose to see them either in deplorable conditions or not at all.
And don’t get me started on the venues in which film festivals are helda motley crew of museum auditoriums with bad acoustics and theaters built for stage plays. The National Gallery of Art is the only exception. One can only hope the new American Film Institute venue, when open, will alleviate this atrocious lack of decent screening venues.
Unfortunately, like the article, I can’t think of a good solution to this cinematic dilemma other than to patronize the few decent theaters as much as possible, to show there is a market for film here as long as it’s shown properly. I don’t believe all the theaters that have closed here over the years have done so despite large audiences; rather, an indifferent public combined with inadequate screening facilities have been a lethal combination for film.
I hope articles like “Midnight Madness” help ignite a turnaround.