Local film fans mourn end of Eastport Art 2

Little theater showed independent, art movies

May 30, 2004|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When "The End" scrolls across the screens tomorrow night at the Crown Eastport Art 2 cinema, Annapolis moviegoers will bid farewell to the only local theater dedicated to arts and independent films.

Connecticut-based Crown Theatres recently announced that the Eastport Art 2's screens would go dark after tomorrow but that the "tradition will immediately continue" at the nine-screen Crown Harbour, which is getting a $1 million facelift this summer and fall.

Although it's possible that the neighborhood theater, at Eastport Shopping Village, could reopen under new management, local moviegoers are already bemoaning its closing.

"This is a loss to the community and to Eastport," says Lillian Brown of Severna Park, who frequented the theater with friends. "They kept really good movies and they kept them for a long time so you could get to see them, and the theater was cozy."

In the 1970s and 1980s, audiences could depend on the Eastport Cinema (the theater's original name) to provide a consistent menu of family fare such as Disney's Old Yeller. At that time, there was only one auditorium.

In more recent years, some moviegoers have made it a point to see one or both of the dual offerings of independent and foreign films for which the neighborhood theater came to be known.

Were all these "little" films destined for short runs attended by only the most-dedicated movie buffs? Not at all. My Big Fat Greek Wedding ran for an entire summer to packed houses before the major movie houses woke up and showed it.

Before they were recognized with Academy Award nominations, New Zealand's Whale Rider and the Bill Murray film Lost in Translation were attracting crowds to the Eastport establishment.

Unique experience

Despite the older seating -- age had taken its toll on the chair springs -- many flocked to the Eastport Arts 2 to experience something more substantial than movies geared toward a youthful audience.

The theater specialized in limited showings of foreign and independent films. It has also played host to the 2-year-old Annapolis Film Festival.

Moviegoers would often vie for a spot in the shopping center's usually crowded parking lot, enjoy a bite to eat at Squisito or Adam's Rib, and finish the evening with a movie that often led, as the house lights rose, to an impromptu discussion among lingering audience members.

"The fact that there was nowhere else in the area to see foreign films except going to the Landmark Theaters in Bethesda or the Charles in Baltimore is too bad," said Ingrid Petzold of Annapolis. She said that even those theaters did not show all the ones that were shown in Eastport.

Petzold and her husband, Henry, kept abreast of foreign releases and often suggested new titles to the management at Eastport, which would request them from its parent company.

Crown acquired the theater from Apex Cinemas in the late 1990s, according to a Crown spokeswoman. The theater had previously been owned by Washington-based Reel Entertainment and before that by Durkee Enterprises, a local chain.

When asked about the possibility of a new movie theater at the site, Dan Lederberg of L&L Investments, which runs the Eastport shopping center, said: "It's being pursued -- nothing is definite at this point."

Crown Harbour

Crown says it plans to begin showing independent and foreign films after tomorrow at the Crown Harbour theaters on Solomons Island Road. And this summer and fall, that theater will get new seating, Dolby five-channel surround sound and new screens.

"We are grateful for the enduring support of the filmgoers in Annapolis and will continue to offer them the best movie-going experience possible," Crown President Hal Cleveland said in a recent statement.

Multiplexes, with their high volumes, can't offer the intimacy of old-fashioned neighborhood theaters like the Eastport.

Said Petzold: "It seems very appropriate that one of the last movies to play at the Eastport Theater is Bon Voyage."

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