News Column

Movie theaters in New York sprouting up everywhere -- and thriving

May 5, 2013

YellowBrix

May 05--Netflix? Why bother when you can catch a flick on the town.

Movie theaters have been popping up across New York in droves over the past few years, and the latest is set to break ground Tuesday when the city's first "all documentary, all the time" theater, the DCTV cinema, begins construction.

Mayor Michael Bloom-berg, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and others will be joined by filmmakers including Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock to unveil the new theater, which will be built on the first floor of 87 Lafayette Street.

"There aren't that many theatrical opportunities for documentary filmmakers, and we wanted to create one, since we've devoted our lives to this," Downtown Community Television Center co-founder Jon Alpert said.

The theater, which is expected to open in 2015, is only the latest in a string of recent cinema openings in the city, including last year's MIST Harlem Cinema and Williamsburg Cinemas, 2011's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and Nitehawk Cinema, and 2010's reRun Gastropub Theatre in DUMBO.

Austin, Texas' popular Alamo Drafthouse is set to open outposts in Manhattan and Brooklyn, after making its first inroad into the area with a Yonkers theater in July.

Despite the fierce competition from more convenient and much cheaper stay-at-home options such as Netflix and Amazon's Instant Video, and the pervasiveness of home entertainment systems, theaters are still enjoying huge levels of success in the city.

"People who go out to theaters are believers in cinemas. They want that communal experience," said David Poland, editor of MovieCityNews.com.

"New York is the hub of art cinema, period. L.A. is not a good town for independent film, it never has been," Poland added. "In New York, there is a large cultural space, especially in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. It's the real film culture city."

Indeed, theaters lately have done particularly well, mostly aligning with a national uptick in both sales and revenue last year, according to a report by the Motion Picture Association of America. Nationwide, box office sales were up 6% last year over 2011 because of increased attendance rather than jumps in ticket prices, the MPAA said.

Matthew Viragh, executive director of Williamsburg's Nitehawk Cinema, said city theaters are booming because cinema is built into New York's DNA. New York "has been the backdrop for generations of filmmakers and it's such a great city for film lovers because you have access to a full spectrum of film programming here," Viragh said.

"Even with this rich history and passionate population, it's still an under-served city in terms of population versus movie screens," he said.

Viragh added that the Nitehawk emphasizes creating a full-fledged experience for its audience.

"Since we're only a three screen, we have to pick the very best first-run films out there, then we develop food and drink specials inspired by these films," he said.

"The fundamental idea is that people are looking for unique experiences, especially in NYC, and we try to provide that using films that we love as the foundation," Viragh said.

Some New Yorkers agreed that a night at the theater is worlds better than staring at a small TV on the couch, even if ticket prices in the city can be as high as $20.50 (for IMAX 3-D).

"New Yorkers are more social, you move to the city to be social, to be around people, and not to just be at home," said Jessica De Los Santos, 24, who recently saw "Graceland" at Village East Cinema.

"It's expensive, but I love it," she added.

Moviegoer Rennie Sharp, 51, who lives in the Bronx and recently saw "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," said: "It's part of the culture of New York -- you want to be out and about. Any big metropolitan city, there's always something to do outside, whether its free or you pay, like the movies."

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(c)2013 amNewYork

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