Theater: Quad Cinema
Quad Cinema: Who, What, When, Where, Why?:
Who: Elliot Kanbar founded Quad Cinema in 1972, and has kept the theater as a family owned and operated art house cinema since. The current legal owner of the Cinema is Kanbar’s brother, Maurice, who is the president of Skyy Vodka and has donated money to NYU’s film institute and the San Francisco Film Festival. Elliott Kanbar is still the current operator of the Quad Cinema to this day, still getting high regards for his contributions to the art house culture of New York City from publications such as The Resident.
What: Quad Cinema was founded to exhibit foreign and independent films without restrictions, as well as provide a gathering place for art filmmakers to display work and reach out to audiences that mainstream theaters could not. Quad Cinema currently hosts many critically acclaimed films on four screens and promotes the independent film experience for both the art house crowd and the uninitiated general audience.
When: Founded in 1972, Quad Cinema, as of March 1st, 2010, operates from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., with the first screenings of the day beginning around Noon and the last screenings ending shortly after Midnight. According to Theater Management, the only reasons that the Cinema would be open later would be due extensive Q+A sessions or if a screen was rented out to an independent vendor. Also, the management indicated that it is not expecting to stay open later to accommodate later crowds as of the near future.
Where: The Quad Cinema is located at 34 West 13th Street, between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue, also known as the Avenue of the Americas. The location puts the cinema at the heart of the East Village, creating a very upscale and convenient environment for the art house and metropolitan crowds within the East Village.
Why: Quad Cinema is significant because it’s an art house theater that has been a stable of traditional art house experiences and yet has been popular ever since it’s inception in the 1970’s. And unlike theaters such as Angelika, IFC Center and the Walter Reade theater, Quad Cinema specializes in many low-profile yet socially significant independent films, many of which have had very little advertising and buzz beforehand. That can be seen as a sign of both the quality that which Quad holds it’s films and also the confidence that the theater takes in itself and it’s risky business decision.
As of March 1st, 2010, Quad Cinema is currently screening “An Education” starring Carrey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard; “A Serious Man”, the latest film from the Coen Brothers; The Independent Spirit Award Nominated “Easier With Practice”; “The Last New Yorker” starring “Sopranos” Star Dominic Chianese; “Ajami”, an Israeli Crime Drama; and “The Hurt Locker”, the Academy Award Nominated film from Kathryn Bigelow.
Films like “An Education”, “A Serious Man” and “The Hurt Locker” are getting extended theatrical runs from Quad Cinema due to their Academy Award Nominations for Best Picture, helping the theater profit from high-profile word of mouth and critical acclaim. “Easier With Practice”, “Ajami” and “The Last New Yorker” are all unrated by the Motion Picture Association of America, a unfortunate circumstance that Quad Cinema uses to their advantage as many theater chains such as Regal and AMC will refuse to play unrated films. “Ajami”’s status as a subtitled foreign film is also a crutch against wide-distribution, and “Easier With Practice” contains sexual explicitness normally found uncomfortable with mainstream audiences.
Upcoming films to be screened at Quad Cinema include “Tales From The Script”, a documentary about screenwriters opening March 12th; “Dancing Across Borders”, a film about a Cambodian Dancer opening March 26th; and “Behind the Burly Q”, a doc about the history of Burlesque opening April 21st.
Each of the upcoming films are documentaries about subjects that are normally only focused within niche groups. “Tales From The Script” may go over well with many fans of the filmmaking process, especially with juicy stories of screenplays gone awry. “Dancing Across Borders” covers international personal issues, which may appeal to those who are subjected to domestic boredom from American News Stations. And “Behind the Burly Q” covers history of sexual digression within the Burlesque subculture, which has a cult audience but is yet still a touchy subject with many people within the general population.
Special Events recently at Quad Cinema have included Double Features throughout the 80’s and 90’s, but have stopped in regular rotation as of 1992. Quad Cinema hosts “Four Wall Select” events for Independent Filmmakers, enabling filmmakers to play the QUAD for a reasonable rental fee and also have the QUAD set up two free press screenings, a DVD sales program, access to an internet digital channel so the film can be streamed and downloaded, and discounted rates for print, online advertising, graphics and marketing.
The Quad is also known for engaging Question and Answer Screenings, which has recently been hosted for movies such as: “Bitch Slap”, a modern day sexploitation film; “I Sell The Dead” starring Dominic Monaghan and Ron Perlman; “Mystery Team”, the debut film from online skit sensation Derrick Comedy; and “Earth Days”, a documentary on the Green Movement. According to Management, the Q+A Sessions are very popular amongst younger art house crowds and provide great word-of-mouth exposure for the eventual DVD releases of art films.
Jesse Rafter’s Experience at Quad:
I first saw the sign as I walked down the block, the first thing I thought was “very small crappy.” There wasn’t much promotion outside the theater. Very basic looking, we walked in the door and we saw posters to the right and posters to the left. The ticket booth in front us, and a ticket guy to the left. It was nice and clean in side and had a nice atmosphere. It felt like a movie theater. They had some critic reviews for some independent movies I’ve never heard of. It was nice to see what critics had to say blown up on these posters. Since I’ve never heard of it, things like that could get me to decide on seeing it. As you continued to walk past the ticket guy, you can see more posters for upcoming independents and ones that were already released. You came to a lobby area where there was a seating area and concession stand. The stand had what ever a regular theater would have. It was priced about the same I guess I never buy food at any theater anyway. The lobby seemed a bit boring. If I was to wait there for a show I want something to look at. They had posters but something else was missing, maybe just more posters or promotional things. We went to sit down after waiting a bit and I noticed the screen was a lot smaller than the ones we are used to. Maybe like half the size, hard to say, but it didn’t take away from the experience of the movie but I was noticing it. After we walked out and left. So overall I say a nice place, I don’t know what to compare it to, but I’m sure there was more fancy independent theaters around. The atmosphere was good though, felt like a small film festival was being held, like a real good unseen movie can be found there, I would go back.
Lobby space was small, theaters were small, guy said there is only a 150 person capacity in about each. Some with more room, and there were only 4 theaters. So, I felt restricted I guess. Theaters were good, but could be a little bigger.
Although for a small theater, when I peaked in to hurt locker it was packed with people. And more were coming in to see other movies. An employee said hurt locker was there big money maker. Everyone was coming to see it. And he said it was a little slow today (Sunday). So at least while I was there it looked like it was doing well business wise. They didn’t promote that though on the outside of the theater. They should or promote it with more than a poster; even a banner would be good.
They only played hurt locker 4 times a day, every movie I think was 4 times. They played a serious man 3 times and ajam in the same theater when serious man isn’t. So being restricted by the space is a factor in money making. If they had another theatre for hurt locker they could probably double up on the cash.
The food stand was priced well I guess as I said before, they had coffee there, which I never saw in a theater, could be just me. Didn’t see many people buying anything in the time I was there.
I didn’t see any special promotions, there was a website thing called quad cinema e-news. I think you sign up and they send you stuff maybe like coupons new movies.
Kevin O’Brien’s experience at Quad:
This theater is in a strange location if I did not have a map or directions I would have simply walked right by it. It is almost right in the middle of the block, so if you are walking by either end and look down the block it would be hard to spot. I went on a Thursday after noon for the first showing of Hurt Locker. I arrived early to buy tickets, but when I got there an hour before the show there was a sign that said they open about 15 minutes before the first showing at 1:00 p.m. I work in a small movie theater myself and we do the same thing. So that was not really a problem. I work at a local theater in my hometown of Sparta. We show mainstream movies even though we only have 3 screens. So comparing two small theaters with different goals was nice. They have 4 theaters that seat about 150 give or take. Sparta Theater has one that seat 115, then 85, and then 65. So it seems that Quad cinema has about equal sized theaters. We also don’t really have a big sign saying where we are and it can be hard to find just like Quad. Promotion wise inside the theater at Sparta we put posters up and it is well lit. It seemed to me like Quad was very minimalist. There were not many posters and once you hit the lobby it was very plain. I really enjoyed the fact that you can still see these films in the theater even though you can get Hurt Locker on DVD. There was one main problem I had though. The screen before the film had no pre show stuff going on it was just a blank screen that was lit by pink lights. Also once the movie started the movie itself was too big for the screen. It cut some of the writing off at the bottom. I agree with Jesse on some points, but working in a small theater myself they seem to be like Sparta. When I went there was almost no one there maybe 8 others in the theater with me. It was very slow but that happens at Sparta as well the first shows usually are very slow. I did not see coffee as an option in drinks but that is a really good idea. Promotion wise I did not see anything I even asked if they had student discounts and they do not. You also cannot be to young to get in because there is an age limit so they can get away with kids tickets. It is a very simple place. I only saw four employees the entire time I was there. I had a pleasant time and the movie was amazing. If it weren’t for the fact that it is so far away I would go back more often but if I ever find my self in the city and need to waste some time I might stop in and see what is playing.
Comparison to Walter Reade, IFC:
Walter Reade is more of a traditionally art house theater, with it’s location and presentation more suited for upper class patrons; in comparison, Quad is much more like a traditional movie theater, although a bit smaller than the Walter Reade Theater.
IFC Center is closest to Quad’s style and presentation, although IFC, like Walter Reade, have later screenings and also screenings for cult classics on a weekly basis.
Transcript of Interview:
By Ken Hanley
[NOTE: The only way I could get an interview with Elliott Kanbar was to arrange a phone interview under the guise of a reporter for an independent film magazine, so sue me.]
Kanbar: I’m glad to speak about the theater. God knows we need the business!
Let’s start off about the theater. Could you give me some history on the theater?
Kanbar: Well, I founded the “Quad” in 1972 since there was all this talk about multi-plexes doing fantastic business. So, with some money I was able to get from family, friends, in particular my brother and father, I started Quad, and as far as I recall, it was the first 4-screen multiplex in [New York] City.
What kind of movies did Quad show when it first opened in 1972?
Kanbar: It’s always funny talking about this. When we started we worked with this real low-down distributor called Golden Releasing, which worked out distribution deals with second run double features and moveovers. Hell, we even had porno on one screen. Believe it or not, there was an audience for that kind of shit. But soon enough, we were being pummeled by competition, around the late 70’s when film got really big again. We unfortunately had to sue before acquiring first run releases, and that was only because we started working with City Cinemas, god bless ‘em.
Is there any particular screening or releases that were of particular note back in those days?
Kanbar: During the time City Cinemas started with us, Quad was THE top Touchstone and Disney screening house in the Village, since they had a good working relationship and were booking most of their product during that time.
What was the appeal of Quad Cinema to the art crowd?
Kanbar: Besides having 4 screens? Christ, kid, you’re killing me. My brother [Maurice] used to say our biggest appeal was that we were the biggest little secret in NYC. We showed the city that a movie theater did not have to be on a main street to do good business. Quad was off the beaten path, and we catered to those art film loving patrons who would travel blocks with the intent of seeing a particular film.
Were your releases ever affected by film festivals?
Kanbar: Surely. Quad was a great interim between art house audiences and film festivals, always screening films from international festivals that most audiences could not attend themselves.
Did Quad ever have any famous Patrons during it’s early run?
Kanbar: Well, in particular, Warhol was a fan of Quad Cinema. Besides him, no one too big of note who was an outspoken fan. Warhol’s fans would come in droves, though. We actually still have a big homosexual audience for certain films, which is probably thanks to Andy Warhol.
Is there anything you would change about Quad if you could go back ten, twenty years?
Kanbar: Maybe not place the box office so close to the exit! [laughs] We’ve been robbed a lot in the past so definitely rethink that choice. Also, maybe get something different than a cheap foreign projection which, since renovations a couple years back, have been replaced by much more efficient American-made projection systems.
Since the Demise of companies like Paramount Vantage and Miramax, what do you suppose will happen to independent film and of Quad Cinema?
Kanbar: The Quad Cinema is a staple of the art house crowd. Simple as that. As long as people want to see something new, something thought-provoking and meaningful, we’ll have an audience. As for the so-called “Death” of independent cinema, we’ll just have to wait and see, but it’s not like film is ever just going to die or go out of style. It’s here to stay.