D.C.'s West End Cinema to provide outlet for smaller films

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 22, 2010; 12:02 AM

Washington's cinematic landscape is about to get a little bit bigger.

On Oct. 29, the West End Cinema will open at 2301 M St. NW -- the site of the Inner Circle Theatre, which closed in 2004. Recent years have seen the closing of other neighborhood movie theaters, including the Dupont 5, Visions Bar Noir and Union Station's Phoenix Theatres. The West End represents a vote of confidence that people -- especially literate, well-traveled, highly educated Washingtonians -- still want to see documentaries, foreign films and otherwise under-the-radar independent films that would never play a multiplex.

At 7,200 square feet, with three auditoriums that will seat 95, 75 and 50 patrons, the West End will certainly be no multiplex, at least in the conventional sense. The theater, which will serve beer, wine and gourmet nibbles as well as popcorn, candy and soda, is fashioned more along the lines of the cinematheques of Europe and independent theaters in large U.S. cities.

"We looked at theaters all over the world," said Jamie Shor, a communications and marketing executive who co-founded the West End with former restaurateur and film marketer Josh Levin. As head of the PR Collaborative, Shor said that the need for an intimate art and repertory house emerged from her movie marketing experience: "We've had films that couldn't find a home in D.C. because there just were not enough screens."

The West End opening slate will be the Beat Generation drama "Howl," the documentaries "Gerrymandering" and "Budrus" (about redistricting and Arab-Israeli politics, respectively) and weekend midnight screenings of the vampire thriller "Let Me In."

Although the Landmark theaters on E Street and in Bethesda show independent movies, as well as the Avalon and the AFI Silver Theatre, the West End will be "a complement, not a competitor" to those venues, Shor said. "I'm a firm believer that a rising tide raises all ships. We only benefit from each other being here."

Opening a movie theater could be seen as something of a risk when studios and exhibitors are increasingly resorting to bells and whistles like Imax and 3-D to coax audiences away from their home entertainment centers. To create added value, Shor and Levin will offer the West End as a venue for non-film events such as opera simulcasts, corporate meetings and television production.

In partnership with Flying Colors Broadcasts, the theater will be equipped with high-definition cameras, video conferencing and satellite capability. The smallest theater will feature removable seats to create a reception space.

But even without those mixed uses, Levin maintains, the West End will fill a need in a neighborhood bordering Georgetown, Dupont Circle and George Washington University. "I grew up in D.C. with 30 movie theaters," he says. "Now, because of consolidation, there's only a handful. I believe the pendulum is swinging the other way, and that people still enjoy the shared experience of watching a film on a big screen with other people."

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