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Historic Houston movie theater closes due to pandemic – Times of India


HOUSTON: A historic Houston theater that director Richard Linklater known as his “film school” and that for many years was the place to catch hard-to-find unbiased and international movies has closed for good – like many theaters and different companies, a sufferer of the coronavirus pandemic.
After almost 82 years in enterprise, the River Oaks Theatre turned off its projectors final month, depriving the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis of an establishment the place everybody from rappers to suburban children and cinephiles fashioned friendships, fell in love and located neighborhood. Its loss has left extra than simply an empty constructing behind.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve experienced so much loss and so much grief and loss of life. It is also a profound grief to lose the places of community and the places that you would come together and feel that love … that safety,” Leen Dweik, 24, informed dozens of different River Oaks followers throughout a vigil after the theater’s last showings.
Dependent on massive crowds to survive, US movie theaters have been hammered by the pandemic, as they had been shut down for months and noticed their revenues plunge by 80% in 2020. Although some have managed to survive with the assistance of support and thru workarounds, Landmark Theatres, which ran the River Oaks, wasn’t in a position to attain an settlement with its landlord, Weingarten Realty, over lease it could not pay through the pandemic. Weingarten Realty did not reply to an e-mail looking for remark.
Movie theater commerce teams imagine their trade will bounce again after the pandemic, partly with the assistance of greater than $16 billion in federal funding from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. Theaters are additionally hoping to get a lift from “Godzilla vs. Kong,” one of the primary occasion films to be launched through the pandemic. And there’s trigger to be optimistic, because it made $123.1 million internationally final weekend.
About 55% of the 5,800 movie theaters within the US are at present open, however many are nonetheless saddled by capability limits and lingering fears about spending lengthy intervals in crowded indoor areas – justifiable, given the current case surges in some states regardless of the continued vaccination efforts. In China, the place the pandemic is properly beneath management, moviegoing is shut to pre-pandemic ranges.
“We’re optimistic. Things may change permanently, but it’s not going to be the end of cinema by any means,” mentioned Rich Daughtridge, a board member with the Independent Cinema Alliance, which represents greater than 300 unbiased theater house owners.
Patrick Corcoran, a spokesman for the National Association of Theatre Owners, which additionally represents bigger theater chains, mentioned his group does not have a complete listing of theaters which have completely closed or declared chapter due to the pandemic, however that it is nonetheless a comparatively small quantity.
That could also be, however a number of chains have thrown within the towel or proven they’re in misery. Cinemagic introduced in February that it was closing all eight of its places in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. And two bigger chains – Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas Holdings and the corporate that owns CMX Cinemas – have filed for chapter safety through the pandemic.
“There are still going to be some tough times after we get back to normal, that may still have some effects on companies,” Corcoran mentioned.
Supporters of the River Oaks, together with Linklater and Houston rapper Bun B, hope that the theater – with its distinctive marquee, Art Deco structure and ornate carvings – will not be torn down or drastically altered and may even be used once more to present movies or host reside performances.
“That was the church I had wandered into (in the early 1980s) and found the holy spirit of cinema,” Linklater, whose movies embody “Dazed and Confused” and “Boyhood,” mentioned throughout a digital panel held Wednesday in assist of the theater.
The River Oaks opened in 1939 and for the final 45 years, it has primarily operated as an artwork-home theater showcasing unbiased and international cinema. Although there are different Houston theaters that present such movies, none had the profile of the River Oaks.
“We’re not just losing a movie house,” Bun B, a self-described cinephile, mentioned through the panel dialogue. “We’re losing one of those places where artists can come and present themselves to the world, but then also young creators can come and ponder what their future might be.”
River Oaks supporters hope the venue does not have the identical destiny as one other close by historic theater that was transformed right into a Trader Joe’s grocery retailer. Although the River Oaks acquired metropolis landmark standing when it was at risk of being torn down in 2007, it might nonetheless be razed and the notoriously developer-pleasant metropolis does not have an awesome historical past of preserving its historic buildings, mentioned Sarah Gish, who helped begin the group Friends of River Oaks Theatre to try to save the constructing.
“The main thing is save the building itself because that is the cultural history. We have already lost so much of the history” in Houston, Linklater mentioned.
The pandemic exacerbated many of the considerations that movie theaters had been already going through, together with shrinking home windows by which to solely present movies. With some studios now concurrently releasing new films in theaters and on streaming platforms, it is going to be even tougher for unbiased and artwork home venues just like the River Oaks, Bob Berney, CEO of movie distributor Picturehouse, mentioned through the panel dialogue.
Gish, who labored on the River Oaks within the Nineties, mentioned she nonetheless hopes that it is perhaps saved.
“All movie theaters are a repository for huge emotions. They’re community gathering spots, they’re memory makers, all of that. That’s what we’re losing with the River Oaks Theatre going away,” Gish mentioned.

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