Film Reviews: Wednesday, May 02, 2002
What’s Cooking?

Gourmet Cinema’s over, but art films continue to show in Fort Worth. What gives?

By Kristian Lin

The end was drawn-out, but quiet. The Gourmet Cinema program, which had brought foreign and American independent films to downtown Fort Worth’s AMC Sundance theaters since 1998, was officially terminated last month. The program had been unofficially dead since the mid-March departure of director Michael H. Price. Its demise was briefly noted in this publication at the time (“Lights, Camera, Inaction,” Mar. 14-20, 2002).

Ironically, this comes during a spring when more “art” films have been booked locally than ever before. Fort Worth audiences are still feeling the spillover effect from last year’s openings of Dallas’ Angelika and Magnolia theaters. The Devil’s Backbone, Festival in Cannes, Kissing Jessica Stein, and Triumph of Love all played in Fort Worth in the last six weeks. There have also been a number of art films opening simultaneously in Dallas and Fort Worth, instead of playing in Dallas first, as is usually the case. One could argue that Y Tu Mamá También and Frailty owed their two-city openings to the area’s Hispanic population in the former case, and the local ties of director Bill Paxton in the latter case. However, Human Nature and The Cat’s Meow also both came directly to Fort Worth in April without first stopping in Dallas, and without any obvious links to local audiences. And... Entertainment Film Works opened a new movie theater in Bedford last November, which devotes one screen to art-house films. “People in the area requested it,” said general manager Robin Shurtleff. “They don’t want to go all the way to downtown Fort Worth or Dallas to see these films.” Two weeks ago, the theater got a Tarrant County exclusive with Mira Nair’s conventional but highly enjoyable Indian comedy Monsoon Wedding. “We’re a new company, and the studios [that distribute art films] haven’t heard of us yet,” Shurtleff said, “but we’re hoping to get in more first runs of these movies.”

Price takes little consolation in this activity, however. He believes the AMC and UA theaters on Hulen Street book art films passively to fill screens rather than make a commitment to bring offbeat films to audiences. “I’m really pessimistic about the future of art films in Fort Worth,” he said.

Sundance marketing director Tracy Gilmore denied that the company has lost interest in art films. “We’re happy to offer all kinds of films,” she said. Though she won’t discuss the factors that led to Gourmet Cinema’s termination, she promised, “It was just the name of a program, not a change in philosophy.” Indeed, art films continue to play in downtown Fort Worth — Nanni Moretti’s superb The Son’s Room opened last week at AMC Palace despite a relatively undistinguished run in Dallas.

Still, the Palace’s prime-time Saturday-night screening of The Son’s Room attracted only five paying customers. Art films will continue to have a tough time if they encounter turnout like that. Price’s conclusion is that ticket-buyers hold the future in their hands. “There’s no sense in sitting around waiting for Santa Claus or Jesus to bring art films here. You’ve got to go out and demand it.”

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