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A County's Transition, Seen Though Its Cinemas

Moviegoers fill the hallway as movies let out at AMC Tysons Corner 16. The venue is one of three new multi-screen theaters that have opened in Fairfax County in the past 14 months.
Moviegoers fill the hallway as movies let out at AMC Tysons Corner 16. The venue is one of three new multi-screen theaters that have opened in Fairfax County in the past 14 months. (Photos By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006

Linda Hill ended up in line for the 7:25 p.m. screening of "Brokeback Mountain" at AMC Tysons Corner 16 a week ago tonight. Though she lives in Reston, Hill thought the 9:40 p.m. showing of the two-hour 14-minute Ang Lee film at the Reston Town Center Multiplex was a trifle too late for a weeknight.

Plus, the four-month-old theater at Tysons had gotten rave reviews from her daughter, who met Hill to see the movie after getting off work in Alexandria.

The acclaimed gay love story is playing at six theaters in Fairfax County, including Tysons, Reston, the barely one-year-old Fairfax Corner 14 in the Fair Oaks area, the indie-film-oriented Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax, the family-oriented Lee Highway Multiplex in Merrifield and the Kingstowne 16.

Peruse the showtime listings and it will soon become evident that Fairfax has evolved into a movie mecca, as three state-of-the-art theaters with 46 screens have opened in the past 14 months, adding to a stable of 10 theaters that have been buttering popcorn and selling Sno-Caps for some time. And most of the offerings on these marquees tilt more toward complex, challenging films such as "Munich" and "Syriana."

It's another indication -- along with the Census estimate topping 1 million residents, of which 25 percent are foreign born, a median household income of $81,050 and a trend of residents voting more moderately in recent elections -- that Fairfax County is as urbane and culturally open-minded as any of its metropolitan neighbors.

Except, perhaps, when the Victoria's Secret mannequins at the mall get a little too, um, intimate.

"Children in the mall are not exposed to homosexuality on the movie screen unless they are accompanied by an adult," said Lyutha Al-Habsy, who was also catching the 7:25 Tysons screening of "Brokeback," which chronicles a romantic relationship between two cowboys. The Vienna resident said she was happy the film was playing around the corner from her house -- and that the retail lingerie store one floor below had toned down its window display.

In the District, moviegoers have only two options for seeing "Brokeback": the cramped Loews Dupont Circle 5 or the aging Cineplex Odeon on Wisconsin Avenue.

"Fairfax plays just about everything. The sophisticated product there can do as well as the mainstream blockbuster release," said Brian Callaghan, a spokesman for National Amusements, which recently opened the theater in Fairfax Corner near the county Government Center and operates older venues at Reston Town Center, Merrifield, Centreville and Mount Vernon.

The latest theater to open was the Kingstowne 16 on Thanksgiving weekend, an 80,000-square-foot complex with 3,800 stadium seats at the Kingstowne Towne Center in the Alexandria section. The theater also is showing "Brokeback."

The addition of more comfortable, stadium-style seating to the area makes the competition stiffer, especially for owners of older theaters, but Hill's weeknight excursion illustrates why more screens are a benefit to theatergoers: There are lots of options, from movies to showtimes.

"In some areas that are a bit underscreened, people are less likely to go to the movies," explained Callaghan, who grew up in the Springfield area.

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