Film buffs have had a difficult past month, with the shuttering of two stalwarts of the independent movie scene: the Sunshine Cinema and the Lincoln Plaza.
It’s a moment of reckoning, but also appreciation for the remaining theaters devoted to non-multiplex fare, bulwarks against an advancing tide of transformation that can sometimes seem poised to turn every once-beloved Manhattan business into a pharmacy or a bank.
“It’s unsettling and it creates an imbalance and points to the severe lack and shortage of screens for art house, independent and foreign language films to reach an audience,” says Charles S. Cohen, whose Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation owns commercial properties such as 623 Fifth Ave. and 805 Third Ave., as well as many others throughout the United States. “Living in a city like New York, which is rich in culture and tradition, to be limited — and we just lost 11 screens — we can ill-afford to do that.”
Most of us can only mourn what’s lost and hold tight to the theaters that remain. Cohen is actually doing something about it.
That’s because the real estate titan is also a major film buff. His restoration of the Quad Cinema, a Greenwich Village landmark that had fallen into disrepair, will celebrate its one year anniversary in April. And his Cohen Media Group, a film distribution company, earned Oscar nominations this year for the Lebanese movie “The Insult” and the documentary “Faces Places” from filmmaking icon Agnès Varda and the artist JR.
“I’m proud that the Quad is up and running and is being embraced by the local community, the neighborhood as well as the film community, and how important the repertory element is to it, to ensure that it communicates the message that we’re serious, we take film as an art form that needs to be studied and paired together in a way that creates a more meaningful experience for the viewer,” Cohen says. “We’re big believers in the community experience of watching a film with other people, as opposed to watching them alone or on your phone.”
The theater has become increasingly important for first-run independent and foreign films but the repertory program features a degree of diversity that you’ll rarely find elsewhere.
That means the current series, Crimes of Passion: The Erotic Thriller, could spotlight trashy fun in movies like “Cruel Intentions” and “Single White Female,” before giving way to programs on the French filmmaker François Ozon, the great British actor Alan Bates and, next month, an exhaustive Al Pacino retrospective.
Cohen plans to expand his exhibition vision to Westchester County, South Florida and Paris.
But he’s concerned for his fellow distributors of foreign and arthouse movies, who depend on a New York City release to launch their movies.
“If I didn’t have the Quad, what would I do,” he asks. “There is no answer.”