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Closed Theater to Be Revived as a Site for Art Films

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A twin-screen theater here is getting a second lease on life from a budding theater chain that plans to screen strictly foreign and “art house” films in the Conejo Valley.

Regent Realty LP--a limited partnership consisting of Regent Entertainment and a group of real estate investors--has leased the independently owned Westlake Village Theater, which closed in November when the Mann Village 8 multiplex opened a few blocks away.

The renovated theater at Lakeview Canyon and Agoura roads will reopen March 7--complete with cafe--as the Regent Westlake. The first films on the slate are “Prisoner of the Mountains,” Russia’s nominee for the foreign film Oscar this year, and “La Ceremonie,” a French thriller by Claude Chabrol.

Regent is a new, though small, player in the screen wars that have overtaken the Conejo Valley and west San Fernando Valley in the last few years. After determining that the region was underserved, the AMC, Pacific, Edwards and Mann theater chains all have built or are building new multiplexes.

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The same demographics that drew the chains to eastern Ventura County and the west Valley appeal to Regent as well.

“Westlake Village is exactly the type of community that supports specialty and quality films,” Regent partner Paul Colichman said. “We noticed this tremendous vacuum from Woodland Hills west. It seemed ridiculous for such an educated and affluent community.”

The closest art house theater is the Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino. Colichman said he envisions the new theater as somewhat like Laemmle’s Sunset 5 in West Hollywood.

An odd confluence of factors makes Regent think it can successfully carve out a niche.

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Though the number of screens is multiplying, the increase stems exclusively from chain-owned multiplexes. They play a certain number of art films, but as film distributor Susan Wrubel put it: “To them, specialty product is like ‘Emma’ or ‘Sense and Sensibility.’ ”

At the same time, more independent films are being produced. And some of those same art films--"The English Patient” or “Sling Blade,” for example--are drawing sizable audiences and getting longer runs in multiplexes. So more foreign and independent films are left competing for fewer available screens.

Enter Regent. Regent Entertainment specializes in making films with budgets of $3 million or less, Colichman explained, and thus understands the plight of the producer whose film gets tossed out of the multiplex to make way for, say, “Shine.”

Regent Westlake will be the company’s first theater, but partner Stephen Jarchow said the firm might have theaters in 10 to 15 of the top markets in the next two years. Already Regent is building a four-screen theater with adjacent retail and restaurant space in the South Beach area of Miami Beach.

With only two screens here--with about 270 seats each--Regent doesn’t even consider itself in competition with its heavyweight multiplex neighbors.

“We’re not taking food out of their mouths,” Colichman said. “We’re just adding to the menu.”


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