Last week’s news, I know, but I’ve been on vacation so am just catching up. In case you haven’t heard: Sundance Cinemas, a for-profit entity that’s part of Robert Redford’s Sundance empire (which also includes the film festival and the Sundance Channel), has acquired the Metro, the U-District tenplex operated by Landmark Theatres since it opened in 1989. Sundance will take over the theater beginning May 1, and will keep it in operation while renovating. Nancy Gribler, vice president of marketing for Sundance Cinemas, told me that they will maintain all 10 screens, but will improve every auditorium with new digital projection and stadium seating. (Hmm — how do you put stadium seating into the Metro’s tiny auditoriums in the back? We shall see, I guess.) The cinema will include a lounge with a full bar, and patrons may take drinks to their seats in the evening. (Gribler told me that in the early evening, the cinema will become a 21-and-over facility.) She did not have a specific date for the renovations, but said that they will plan a grand re-opening when the work is complete.
The renamed Metro, which will be called Sundance Cinemas Seattle, is the fifth in the Sundance chain; theaters currently operate in San Francisco, Madison and Houston, and one is currently under construction in West Hollywood. A sixth is planned for Dobbs Ferry in New York’s Westchester County, for 2014. I took a look at the theaters at the Sundance Cinemas website (you can see photos of the three in operation here; scroll to the links at the bottom of the page) and they look elegant and comfortable. Programming for the theaters looks comparable to what’s currently offered in Seattle at Landmark and SIFF Cinemas — I didn’t see anything currently playing at a Sundance theater that isn’t viewable here — but they appear to offer a nice balance of mainstream (“Mirror Mirror,” “Titanic 3D”) and arthouse (“The Salt of Life,” “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” “The Kid with a Bike”) fare.
Details worth noting: All of the current Sundance Cinemas have reserved seating only — you choose your seats when you pay for your tickets (which you can do online or at the box office). And, according to the website’s FAQ, all charge an “amenities fee” for most screenings, ranging from $1 to $3. First shows Monday through Thursday do not charge the fee. Here’s how they explain it:
At Sundance Cinemas, all seats are reserved at all times. For most shows, there is an amenities fee which helps us to provide an excellent movie-going experience. We present the finest art, independent and world cinema, our building was constructed utilizing a large percentage of post-consumer grade materials, a large number of recycled and recyclable products, we buy meats, produce and other goods from local vendors, we do not show annoying television commercials ( a huge source of revenue for most theatre circuits), free wi-fi throughout the building, we support and exhibit local artists on our walls and in our retail shop – plus we have real butter on our popcorn!
Sounds promising, particularly the part about not showing TV commercials. And I asked Gribler specifically about cellphone use. While Sundance Cinemas does not have a “no-cellphones” policy (like the Alama Drafthouse), Gribler says it has not been a problem; patrons are told and understand that the light from a cellphone screen is distracting, particularly in stadium seating. I pressed her, asking if the staff would intervene if someone persisted in using a cellphone during a film, and she said that “of course” a staffer would communicate with the erring person if needed. I’ll be visiting the new Sundance Cinemas Seattle when it re-opens, and will be watching for this — if there are truly no commercials and no cellphone use, that extra $1 to $3 just might be money well spent. (Though I’m not sure why they can’t just roll it into the ticket price, rather than calling it an extra “fee.”) More on this story in May . . .