Madstone No More
Art house theater goes dark, but there is a ray of hope
By Devin D. O'Leary
In June of 2002, Madstone Theaters opened for business in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights. It is some sort of fitting symmetry that in June, 2004, the movie theater has shut down. The eight-screen venue, built on the location of the old San Mateo 8, specialized mostly in art films and foreign cinema. It was there that countless Albuquerque viewers caught their first glimpse of films like Y Tu Mamá También, Bowling for Columbine, Nowhere in Africa, Whale Rider, City of God and countless others. In two short years, Madstone made a discernible mark on the our city's arts community, and many local viewers were shocked to hear of its sudden, unexpected demise.
The theater was part of a small, nine-theater chain dedicated to bringing foreign and independent films to communities across America. Last Tuesday, the chain closed up operations in Atlanta, Ann Arbor and Chandler, Ariz. As of Monday, the company has shut down all the remaining theaters and is ceasing operation of its business.
Sophie Martin, the Albuquerque theater's longtime director of marketing and operations is quick to assure patrons in Albuquerque that they did not contribute to the chain's failure.
“It's important to me that people not get the wrong impression: that they are not capable of supporting something like a Madstone,” says Martin, clearly still passionate about her workplace. “There was a tremendous interest in the films that we showed, and there is no doubt in my mind that another player could come in and make a go of it. The last thing I'd like to see Albuquerque saying is, ’Well, of course something like that can't survive here.' ... It's just not the case.”
Albuquerque was one of the chain's most profitable locations, and was embraced by the local arts scene almost immediately. Over its short life, Madstone played host to the Southwest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the annual Alibi Short Film Fiesta, the monthly PMF Five-Minute Film Competition and dozens of local film, art and literary events.
Several of Madstone's other locations have already been turned over to new investors, giving some hope that Albuquerque may not be without the theater for long. Tampa has already transferred ownership over to another company. “San Diego and Cary [N.C.] will go black for a little while, but it has been confirmed they will come up again under new interests,” says Martin. “That's what we're hoping to do for Albuquerque and Denver.”
Strong interest has already been expressed on behalf of a small, L.A.-based investment group in obtaining the Albuquerque location and continuing to operate it as an art-house-style theater. “I think it would be a cool and interesting thing if they brought it back,” says Martin.
Martin seems relegated to the fact that the theater will close its doors for at least several weeks, but feels that any new owners would want to reopen the theater as soon as possible.
“There's a lot of good will, a lot of brand equity--for lack of a better phrase. People really know and respond to this theater, and I don't think they're going to want to lose traction.”
Just how quickly new owners could get the theater up and running is still in question. The new investors are looking to possibly take over operations of the Denver Madstone location as well, forming a tiny, regional duo.
In the meantime, Martin's main concern is with taking care of the theater's loyal customers.
“First thing that we hope is that some of the bookings will go to The Guild,” says Martin, who is trying to funnel some of her future film schedule to the venerable Nob Hill theater, Albuquerque's sole remaining theater dedicated entirely to independent film.
The other hope is that loyal patrons who purchased Madstone Theaters memberships will be able to utilize those benefits at other local arts organizations. “We have commitments from one of the [film promo] agencies that they'll be inviting our members to sneak previews,” assures Martin.
The theater also has early commitments from a number of art, theater and film groups around town to give discounts to former Madstone members. As Martin puts it: “So much rapport has been shown to us. People have had such a strong desire to be part of what we do, my hope is they'll transfer that loyalty to the other locally owned, locally run arts organizations that are so great here.”
In other words: Embrace what you've got, Albuquerque. The curtain may not be open forever.
Films that Madstone Has Screened in Albuquerque Over the Last Two Years
Y Tu Mamá También
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
The Kid Stays in the Picture
The Crime of Father Amaro
City of God
Nowhere in Africa
Girl with a Pearl Earring
The Station Agent
The Barbarian Invasions
The Triplets of Belleville
La lengua de las mariposas/