Art House in Austin

On Film / Short Takes — Apr 27, 2011

As those immersed in American film culture know, Austin, Texas, has been a growing hub of activity for the past twenty years. With the Austin Film Society, such locally based filmmakers as Richard Linklater and John Pierson, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, the Austin Film Festival, the city has become an integral part of the country’s cinematic landscape. And its reputation has grown exponentially with the explosion of the annual South by Southwest music and film festival. So it’s a little surprising that the downtown area has been lacking an art-house cinema of its own. It’s a hole that’s about to filled, though, when the brand-new four-screen Violet Crown Cinema opens this week.

“Austin attracts a lot of creative people . . . It’s definitely a film-friendly town,” the theater’s owner, Bill Banowsky, told us. (Banowsky, the former CEO of Magnolia Pictures and Landmark Theatres, has a history of bringing international cinema to American audiences.) “It just hasn’t had a film-friendly venue to show art films in downtown—until now. There have been no theaters outside of the Arbor—which is ten miles north of downtown—that play art films in a consistent and dedicated way, and a lot of great films don’t play central Austin at all. That will change as of this Friday.”

The Violet Crown, two years in the making, will seat a total of 185 across its four screens, all of which are digital, and also house a full bar and café. Though the official opening date is Friday, April 29, the theater will be hosting an event on Wednesday, April 27, that should appeal particularly to Criterion fans. Richard Linklater, in conjunction with the Austin Film Society, has curated a special night, titled Criterion in Violet, to celebrate the theater’s launch. The Slacker and Dazed and Confused director has selected eight Criterion titles to be shown at the theater: The Times of Harvey Milk; The 400 Blows; Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence; Amarcord; Paris, Texas; Close-up; Yojimbo; and Vivre sa vie. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund.

When the theater begins its regular programming, it will be showing such films as the latest from Abbas Kiarostami, Kelly Reichardt, Bertrand Tavernier, and Werner Herzog. Banowsky says they also plan on showing repertory titles and midnight-movie classics in the near future. Banowsky is optimistic that there is an audience for all these programs: “I believe art film exhibition has a bright future. Cinema is a communal experience.”