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UC theater remains open

By William Inman Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday October 10, 2000

When some Berkeleyans caught wind that the beloved repertory movie theater, UC Theater, was going to pull the curtain for good at the end of September, some began to have nightmares of spending their free time watching reruns of “Survivor.” 

It had been announced last month that the theater was closing down because its owners couldn’t foot the bill for a pricey seismic retrofit, but when Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s “The Wind Will Carry Us” brightened the marquee Oct. 1, the town seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief. 

Representatives from the Los Angeles-based Landmark Cinemas, which operates the 83-year-old movie house, had only scheduled its trademark art house films through the end of September because, as they had told their landlords, Quality Bay Construction, they were unable to pay their half of a $600,000 bill for state-mandated retrofitting for the theater. 

“We had e-mails and calls from people wanting to help keep it open,” said Steve Indig, Landmark Theaters’ Bay Area Marketing Manager. 

Negotiations between the Landmark Theater’s parent company, the Dallas-based Silver Cinemas and the Berkeley-based owners are still under way concerning how the retrofit will be paid for. 

But for now, the reels will keep spinning. 

“We’re not in default on our lease,” said Mike Mullen, senior vice president of Operations for Silver Cinemas. “We’re still in negotiations about the seismic issue.” 

Right now, we’re exploring all the options. We’re talking with one of the three partners (of Quality Bay Construction) and trying to work with him as much as possible,” he said. “We have no intentions of closing it down.” 

The Daily Planet was unable to reach any of the Quality Bay Construction partners. 

Accompanying Kiarostami’s Oct. 1 showing was a buck a ticket increase, from $7 to $8, and a format change that have left some regulars to the movie house at 2036 University Ave. chagrined. 

“The programming now is much less diverse,” said Carl Somers, a UC Berkeley grad student in sociology. “Instead of two features every day with themes that touch each other, it’s one feature only. It’s several degrees closer to the mainstream.” 

Mullen and Indig said that the format change and the ticket increase have little to do with the retrofitting woes. 

The ticket increase had little to do with the threatened shut down. The prices were raised “mostly because it was due. We figured now was as good a time as any.” 

Mullen said that since the attendance is historically low at the UC Theater, it’s hoped that the programming change will fill more seats. 

The theater now offers one feature that runs from Friday to Thursday, opposed to double features with shorter runs of four to five days, and some daily changes. 

Indig said the theater will still have film festivals, however, and the features will still be the art house films that made it famous. 

“It’s not that different to have these titles run for this long,” Indig said. “What’s different is the absence of changing programming everyday.” 

He said that Akira Kurosawa’s action epic “Ran,” which is running Thursday, was “a hit this weekend.”  

“It’s undetermined if we’re going to stick with this (format) or not,” Indig said. “It’s going to stay this way for this calendar, at least.”