Filmgoers hungry for independent, foreign and local cinema, keep your eye on the old Embassy.
The theater at 1927 Florida Ave. NW was closed by Cineplex Odeonin the summer of 1998, but if Andrew Frank has his way, it will reopen in May as Visions, a movie house-cum-bistro-cum-lounge specializing in the kind of fare familiar to habitues of the late, lamented Biograph and Key.
Frank, an avid film-lover who owns the Sirius Coffee Company in Van Ness, says work is currently underway to convert the former Embassy, a 565-seat, single-screen theater serving popcorn, soda and the usual assortment of candy, into a two-screen art house and cafe offering cocktails, coffee and a changing menu of such "filmgoer-friendly" food as tapas, spinach pies, samosas and wraps. ("One thing you don't want to do," says Frank, "is have to sit on a tomato left on the upholstery by the person who used the seat before you.") The main house, seating around 200 with an exclusive balcony of 30 rocking seats, will be devoted to first-run independent and foreign films while a smaller house of roughly 115 seats will offer a program of local, alternative, cult and repertory film. Both will be available for daytime rental to groups with conference and audio/visual needs. Unlike the standard refreshment concession of most theaters, Frank says that Visions' restaurant and bar component will be open to the public regardless of whether the theater itself is and that he hopes people will come as much for the menu as for the marquee.
"This is not a Cinema and Drafthouse," he explains. "That's a great concept, but that's not what we're doing. They show second-run films while we'll be showing first-run as well as very different kinds of films."
"We don't really want people to be getting drunk and not paying attention to the movie either," Frank adds. Calling Visions "Politics and Prose for film buffs," he plans to offer post-film discussion groups and meet-the-filmmaker events reminiscent of the author readings regularly scheduled at the classy Connecticut Avenue bookstore and coffeehouse.
"For example," he says, "we could do a Peter Weir festival and have a special on Foster's or offer a Middle Eastern menu that plays off an Arab film festival or host little James Bond parties with martinis and a professor of women's studies talking about the level of sexism."
As a measure of legitimacy, Frank emphasizes that the Visions' programming will be handled by Andrew Mencher, someone whose administrative association with the former Key Theatre and whose current management of the Key Sunday Cinema Club gives him automatic street cred. "We're trying to redefine the film experience in Washington," boasts Frank. "This will be totally unique."
Visions is currently selling a limited number of founding memberships in amounts ranging from $250 to $2,000. Membership includes a prepaid debit card good for tickets, food and drinks, as well as discounts, a subscription to the program book and other perks. For membership information, call or e-mail Burt Maggio at 301/461-8877 (email@example.com) or visit the Web site www.visionsdc.com.