Movie house in Columbia switching to art films

Venue seeks to fill niche, increase customer base with different format

April 25, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A small, unassuming three-screen movie theater is transforming itself into an art film house.

The Columbia City 3 Cinema seeks to fill a niche for those in Howard County who want quality films but not the trek to Baltimore or Washington to see them. The cinema, which is more than a quarter-century old, changed from blockbuster showings to smaller venue films last month.

Despite not being heavily publicized, the switch in format has brought success, the theater's manager said.

"Our customers had requested it," said Debra McClellan, whose company, General Cinema Theaters, runs Columbia City 3. "Our attendance has doubled since we changed."

When the movie house opened to fanfare on Wincopin Circle near Lake Kittamaqundi in 1973, it was the first commercial theater in Columbia. Over the years restaurants sprang up around the theater, and it quickly became a hub of the community as families and couples turned out to enjoy dinner and a show.

But with the emergence of more modern theaters with comfortable seating and megascreens, Columbia City 3 struggled to stay afloat.

"For us to be running first-run, mainstream films just wasn't profitable because of the competition from the United Artists and Sony theaters," McClellan said. "We had been running a mix of regular and art films, and our art films were doing a lot better."

The theater features second-run releases such as "Boys Don't Cry" and "The Cider House Rules," which generated a lot of attention at last month's Academy Awards. McClellan said it also will focus on smaller, independent and foreign films.

Helen Ruther, one of the founders of the Columbia Film Society, said the society had long petitioned to have an art film house in the county.

"It could become just like The Rotunda [in Baltimore] if people knew there was a nice place where they could go and see a film," Ruther said.

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