Thursday, November 18, 2010

Film feature: New independent cinema house at FAU boosts area's film offerings

An outside view of the Living Room Theaters.

By Hap Erstein

With the exception of the occasional adventuresome booking at West Palm Beach’s long-since defunct Carefree Theatre,‭ ‬this county used to be a wasteland when it came to international,‭ ‬independent or alternative films.

But six years ago,‭ ‬a digitally projected national network,‭ ‬Emerging Cinema,‭ ‬moved into Lake Worth.‭ ‬Now,‭ ‬beginning this weekend,‭ ‬comes Living Room Theaters,‭ ‬a more upscale series of intimate screening rooms on the Florida Atlantic University campus in Boca Raton.

This marks only the second location for Living Room Theaters,‭ ‬following its initial start-up in Portland,‭ ‬Ore.‭ ‬So why Boca next?

‭“‬Well,‭ ‬to be perfectly honest,‭ ‬it was the university,‭ ‬FAU,‭ ‬that came to us,‭” ‬says Diego Rimoch,‭ ‬the younger half of a father-son team that owns Living Room Theaters,‭ ‬Inc.‭ “‬That was over four years ago.‭ ‬They made this proposal to us,‭ ‬saying,‭ ‘‬Would you be interested in doing this on campus‭?’ ‬It was such a great opportunity,‭ ‬we just couldn’t let it go by.‭”

No,‭ ‬he explains,‭ ‬it was not the soft economy that caused the project to take four years.‭ “‬There were a number of factors.‭ ‬This is the first time we or the university had heard of such a partnership between the public and the private sector,‭ ‬so there were a lot of things that had to be worked out,‭” ‬Rimoch says.‭ “‬We had to lay the groundwork for how the agreement would work out,‭ ‬a lot of minutiae.‭”

Having the screening rooms on campus has benefits for‭ ‬both sides.‭ ‬By day,‭ ‬these four‭ ‬50-seat theaters will be used as classrooms for FAU’s film study program.‭ ‬At night and on weekends,‭ ‬they become commercial movie houses with an adjoining European-style café serving gourmet food items,‭ ‬specialty coffees,‭ ‬beer and wine.

Traditionally in bad economic times,‭ ‬the film industry has done well,‭ ‬because going to the movies is considered one of the least expensive entertainment options.‭ ‬Rimoch also notes that this year‘s box office totals have been inflated by the proliferation of‭ ‬3D movies and their surcharges.‭

But,‭ ‬he quickly adds,‭ “‬As far as we’re considered,‭ ‬that’s not the type of market we are after.‭ ‬We’re more of the art market.‭ ‬But I still think that if you offer a great product at a good price,‭ ‬people will still come.‭ ‬In hard times,‭ ‬people need something to entertain them and take their minds away.

Typical of the fare you can expect at LRT are these opening weekend features‭ ‬--‭ ‬The Last Train Home,‭ ‬Only When I Dance,‭ ‬Soul Kitchen and the original‭ ‬1960‭ ‬Psycho.

We can expect to see more foreign films that might not otherwise make it down to South Florida.‭ “‬Yes,‭ ‬although we try to have at least half of the films playing at any one time in English,‭”‬ adds Rimoch.‭ “‬We understand that a large segment of the population feels funny about subtitles and having to read a movie.‭ ‬But yes,‭ ‬there’s obviously a large foreign component to the movies we play.

‭“‬We won’t go after commercial films.‭ ‬We’ll stick to independent films,‭ ‬and I think people appreciate that.‭”

An interior view of the Living Room Theaters on the FAU campus.

Living Room Theaters sounds like a natural competitor of Emerging Cinemas,‭ ‬which has outlets in Lake Worth and Lake Park,‭ ‬but Rimoch feels strongly that this market can support two alternative film chains.

‭“‬It’s similar,‭ ‬but we have a lot if features that they don’t have,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬But the main differentiation is that they try to be content providers,‭ ‬so their business model is based on getting distribution of the movies,‭ ‬whereas we are an IT technology vendor.‭”

Rather than focusing on expanding his network of Living Room locations,‭ ‬Rimoch expects to place his in-house digital proprietary projection software in existing theaters around the country.‭ “‬It’s a good product and it’s priced well,‭ ‬so over time we think a lot of independent theaters will find it attractive.‭”

The regular ticket price will be‭ ‬$9.50,‭ ‬but there are a variety of discounts beyond that.‭ ‬Matinees before‭ ‬5‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬will be‭ ‬$7.50,‭ ‬students,‭ ‬educators,‭ ‬the military and seniors‭ ‬65‭ ‬and older will get in for‭ ‬$6.50.‭ ‬And all tickets on the traditionally slow business days of Monday and Tuesday will be a mere‭ ‬$5.50.

Adding to the income will be upscale food concessions,‭ ‬as different from the multiplex menu as the films are.‭ “‬We have a full-fledged kitchen,‭ ‬so we’ll be doing gourmet pizzas and salads and paninis,‭” ‬notes Rimoch.

‭“‬One of the things we say is since these are theaters by filmmakers and for filmmakers,‭ ‬we went about changing everything we didn’t like about movie theaters.‭ ‬From the environment,‭ ‬the look and feel of the theaters to the concessions,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬But the main thing I would say that is different is the movie collection.‭ ‬We care about what we show.‭ ‬I won’t say that occasionally something won’t get through that’s mot up to par.‭ ‬It happens.‭ ‬And not everybody will like everything.‭ ‬But we care a lot about what we show and we’re very careful about what we show.

‭“‬One of the things we try to do is bill the theater as a destination.‭ ‬More than people saying,‭ ‘‬Oh,‭ ‬I want to watch this movie,‭’ ‬I want people to think,‭ ‘‬I’m going to go to Living Room Theaters and see what’s playing there,‭ ‬because I know I will find something I will want to see.‭’ ”‬

LIVING ROOM THEATERS,‭ ‬Florida Atlantic University,‭ ‬777‭ ‬Glades Road,‭ ‬Boca Raton.‭ ‬Opening Friday.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$5.50-$9.50.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬948-2560.‭

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