Kind of, anyway. Sundance Cinemas, the Westlake Village-based theatrical exhibition arm of Robert Redford's independent movie and lifestyle empire, will move into the Sunset 5 space formerly operated by the Laemmle chain at the end of the month. | More Sundance Cinemas photos
The West Hollywood venue at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights has undergone a $2 million makeover that includes a larger lobby space, improved outside patio area and a new upstairs lounge (decked-out with cushy leather chairs and couches from the Sundance Catalog). It also features a gallery that will display work by local artists and what they're calling the `Bar Bar': a traditional theater concession stand that also serves beer and wine and what Sundance Cinemas President and CEO Paul Richardson calls "upscale bar food" like pizza and paninis.
Most crucially, though, the five auditoriums once notorious for cramped seating and neck-cramping sightlines have been revamped into comfortable, roomy-feeling environments. There are 630 plush, rocking stadium seats pleasantly upholstered in wool, with tablettes for plates of food between each set of two. Compare that to the 1,000 smaller seats that were previously crammed into the venue.
Throw in free Internet ticketing and reserved seating and, well, it doesn't sound a whole lot different from what you can find at the newer, upscale complexes run by such indie outfits as Laemmle, Landmark and, to a less indie extent, ArcLight.
"It's definitely a trend in the industry now," explained Agata Kaczanowska, theater industry analyst for IBSWorld, an independent market research firm. "Everyone from AMC and Cinemark to new entrants are focusing on building luxury cinemas and doing what Sundance is doing in this location, which is cutting down the number of seats, providing alcohol service and a higher degree of food availability.
"The reason for this is that it not only justifies higher prices but it gives consumers an experience that most people cannot replicate at home," Kaczanowska added.
Weekend evening adult tickets at the new Sundance top out at $15 with amenity fees.
The difference with Sundance -- which operates theaters in San Francisco, Seattle, Houston and Madison, Wis. -- is that its programming in L.A. will be truly and exclusively independent.
"We're in the shadow of the ArcLight, so we're not going to be playing the 'A' art titles here and we're certainly not going after any commercial product," Richardson explained.
"But my sense is, in Los Angeles with all of the filmmakers and the indie film business here, we can make this be the home of independent film in the city, particularly with our association with the Sundance Institute."
The theater will work with the Utah-based Institute that runs the world's most famous independent film festival to bring in titles that go over great in Park City but may have trouble finding decent distribution outside the festival circuit.
That makes it different from, say, the NoHo 7 or Landmark 14, which devote several screens to heavily marketed indies such as "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" as well as the latest Hollywood product.
A series of special events, some of which are still open to the public, will begin at the new Sundance Sunset on Aug. 27, with the theater's grand opening scheduled for Aug. 31. For more information go to sundancecinemas.net.