Lights, Camera, Art Films 

Silver Cinemas branches out with alternative cinematic fare

click to enlarge Memento  a startling murder mystery in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock
  • Memento a startling murder mystery in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock

Movie distribution seems to follow a simple formula: Unless you live in a city with over a million people, or in an esoteric artists' enclave, the only movies that come to your town have at least a $3 quadrillion budget and their own collector series of plastic cups at Taco Bell. Showing low-budget, un-megahyped, independent, foreign and art films in smaller markets is seen as a risk too great for most theaters to take.

For the past few months, though, Silver Cinemas has been taking that risk in Colorado Springs, showing art films like the suspense-driven Momento, and the lyrical independent hit Songcatcher, which is currently the theater's third most attended film.

It should be noted that Momento is in its second run in the Springs, having opened and run initially at Kimball's Twin Peak, the city's only independently owned movie theater and downtown's only movie house. Kimball's screens a mix of independent/art films and major studio releases, and despite persistent rumors of its imminent demise, has recently signed a five-year lease that assures its continued existence. Currently the psychological thriller The Deep End, which was not picked up by any of the multiplexes, is showing at Kimball's.

Due to positive feedback and healthy turnout, Silver Cinemas plans to continue dedicating four of the eight screens in its North Academy theater to alternative films. In September, Silver Cinemas will feature Solas, a Spanish film, and Enlightenment Guaranteed, a German film.

"People are excited we're showing the independent films," said April Kolin, Silver Cinemas' general manager in the Springs.

The films have been introduced as part of a plan by Paul Richardson, the president of Landmark Theaters, Silver Cinemas' parent company. In May, Richardson took control of the company, which owns 74 theaters across the country, with the grassroots goal of bringing these kinds of movies to markets that normally don't get them. Landmark is the largest distributor of independent, art and foreign films in the country, and is trying to make a comeback after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the spring of 2000.

Landmark marketing director Michael Williams thinks Colorado Springs is a natural market for alternative films. "We know that Colorado Springs is a very educated town, which is a key demographic that Landmark looks for," Williams said.

Kolin sees price and variety as an attractive feature for those diverse crowds. All movies at Silver are $2.50 before 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and $3 after 6 p.m. and all day on weekends. All shows are $1.50 on Tuesdays.

Previously, except for Kimball's, the only alternative for art, foreign and independent film buffs was a trip to Denver's Mayan and Esquire theaters, which are also owned by Landmark. Kolin said that surveys done at the Denver theaters showed that a sizable number of film buffs were making the drive up from Colorado Springs.

Silver Cinemas has taken steps to improve their theater in Colorado Springs since making the switch to alternative fare. When Kolin moved to the Springs from Joliet, Ill. four months ago to manage the Springs' Silver Cinemas, she found an operation in disarray. Many of the staff were rude, and theft from the theater was rife.

Kolin's first job was to get rid of the "riff-raff." She fired eight of the staff of 11 and replaced them "with better, more supportive people."

Colorado Springs' Silver Cinemas, formerly Super Saver, was built in 1988, and by today's technological standards is a bit of a dinosaur. Kolin has overhauled the theater's projection system, changed the porthole glass in the projection booth, and has ensured that general improvements to the property -- such as fixing the lights in the tunnels leading into each screen -- have been made. She estimates that within a month or two the theater will be completely up to national Silver standards.

In the long-term, though, Kolin said she'd like to see Landmark replace some of its aging projection and sound systems with newer, if not brand new, equipment. And she'd like to introduce a popcorn bar, where patrons can customize their kernels with a variety of seasonings and toppings.

As for the movies, Kolin is trying to convince management to introduce midnight events featuring musicals such as A Hard Day's Night, Pink Floyd's The Wall, and cult classics such as Monty Python flicks and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The two factors limiting midnight movies are print availability and the high cost of the print. But the Mayan and Esquire show midnight movies and Kolin is hoping that perhaps a loan agreement can be made to show their cult classics down here in the Springs.

"I'm going to suggest that I think we can benefit from showing midnight movies. Tinseltown is the only theater in town that shows midnight movies, but they show mostly big-budget films from the '80s like Top Gun and Die Hard," says Kolin. (Carmike 10 and Chapel Hills have also experimented with offering midnight shows for some of their more popular films.)

"I think [Silver] should have the true classics -- the classics that people who go out at midnight want to see," declares Kolin in a voice clearly excited by the prospect. "I would absolutely love running Rocky Horror with full audience participation."



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