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The future of film in Eagle Valley

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado

It’s safe to say that most people don’t move to Vail to watch movies. Simply put, thousands of towns in America contain movie theaters, but very few have a mountain like ours. That doesn’t mean that visitors and locals alike don’t want to catch an occasional flick after a powder day or a mountain bike ride down Vail Mountain. For now, at least, they’ll have to leave town to find such luxury. And even then they might not be able to find the movies they’re searching for.

Karen Simon moved to Avon from San Franscisco, which she said boasted a much more cutting edge film culture. Not too enthused about the selection at the Riverwalk theater in Edwards, Simon said she would make more of an effort to see movies if the theater showed a larger selection of films not geared towards mainstream audiences.

Simon’s friend, Martha Brassel of Avon, is indifferent though. She said that while she recognizes some people feel cheated by the lack of independant or less mainstream films in the valley, it’s not as important to locals as it would be in San Francisco.

“This community entertains itself in ways that most don’t,” Brassel said, referring to the outdoor lifestyles many people here lead.

Steve Lindstrom, owner of Riverwalk Theater in Edwards and Capitol Theater in Eagle, agrees. He knows he’s competing for a slice of the entertainment pie in the valley and said he tries to please as many consumers as possible with the movies he shows.

“Lots of people ask us for more art-type movies and we try to bring as many as we can. Quite often people ask for a lot of things and they don’t support it with their time and their money,” LIndstrom said. “We succeed when people support us. And, you know, people vote with their dollar and they support certain types of movies more than others, and that’s just the way it is.”

That still doesn’t take care of the vacuum left in Vail where no operating theaters currently exist. It would be erroneous to say that there have been no movies shown in Vail this year, though.

The 2008 Vail Film Festival has come and gone but making room for all those movies forced open the doors of the Cascade Theater (which are slated to be gutted and renovated as private residences) to the public for the first time in nearly a year, only to have them close tight once the festival ended.

VFF Co-Founder Sean Cross said this year’s festival was the most successful one yet and proves that the love of film is still strong in Vail. In addition to Cascade, festival planners used makeshift locations like Vail Mountain School and The Arrabelle at Vail Square to show many of the films.

“I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the fact that, you know, it’s upsetting that Vail doesn’t have movie theaters,” Cross said.

Indeed, festival goers expressed disappointment in the Cascade Theater’s wasted space as they recalled fond memories of movie watching on those screens. But the memories soon turned to complaints of the current state of cinema in Eagle Valley.

Since the town of Vail is theater-less without Cascade or Crossroads, folks must now travel to Edwards or beyond to get their film fix.

Cascade Theater owner Steve Lindstrom said that the business just isn’t there in Vail and it’s not worth the effort to keep it open while it awaits renovation. He explained that in a resort town, numbers are strong during the ski season but dwindle significantly when its over. Meanwhile, downvalley, his Riverwalk and Capitol theaters are flourishing, he said.

Kim Hause, the 28-year-old owner of Covered Bridge Coffee in Vail, said she didn’t see a single new movie all winter because it was too much trouble braving the icy streets for a journey to Edwards.

“Unless you live in Edwards, it’s more of a mission (to see a movie),” Hause said.

Hopping on a bus for a short ride to a movie theater in Vail would have made things a lot easier on her and many of the town’s residents, she said.

Hause looks forward to the opening of the new theaters at Solaris in Vail. They are expected to open ” along with a bowling alley, skating rink and restaurants ” the latter part of 2009 and in keeping with the times, will be state-of-the-art.

“I think it will bring something else to do here in the village besides just restaurants and shops,” Hause said. “I hope to see it bring more people into town, too.”

No doubt the new theaters will attract large crowds for a while, and Hause hopes they will at least provide comfortable seating.

Not to worry. Craig Cohn, sales, marketing and leasing director of the Solaris project, said that the movie-going public can expect the trio of theaters to have stadium seating along wtih digital projection and surround sound. However, the theaters themselves will be smaller and more intimate than traditional theaters.

“Our idea was that we want it to be a much higher-quality viewing experience,” Cohn said.

For now though, Lindstrom is the owner of the only two operating movie theaters in Eagle County. He thinks that the Solaris theaters are going to be in a great location and will be an important addition to the town. In fact, he said the more theater options, the better.

Will the new competition force Lindstrom to change the way he chooses the films shown at his theaters? Not really, he said. The markets are distinct from one another and don’t really affect each other very much, he added. Some people will travel to catch a flick at a different theater, but not often enough to affect profits, he said. It all comes down to a toss of the dice anyway, since no theater owner can know for sure which movies will be a hit and which will flop.

“It’s a gamble all the way down the line,” Lindstrom said. “You have some idea, but you never know.”

Of course that doesn’t mean Lindstrom doesn’t do his homework. He keeps a close eye on industry publications and works with the studios to stay ahead of the curve, always keeping in mind the local demographics he is trying to please, he said.

Operating movie theaters in areas that don’t thrive on film culture can get a little overwhelming, though.

“It’s incredibly tough,” said Lindstrom. “Things are changing in the … entertainment world.”

In today’s technological society, movie watching has changed shape for sure.

Obviously the theater is not the only place to see a movie as it was in the past, but Lindstrom believes there will always be a place for them in America and Eagle County.

“Movie theaters and the current movies are still a part of the popular culture and it’s the shared experience that people seek out,” Lindstrom said.

With new theaters coming to Vail and prospering theaters in Edwards and Eagle, the future looks bright for movie lovers in the valley. With any luck that future will include more movie options for film lovers.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com


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