This week on The Boxoffice Podcast, co-hosts Russ Fischer and Daniel Loria speak to The Texas Theatre’s Barak Epstein on the legendary cinema’s return from Covid closures and its recent participation in the Sundance Film Festival’s satellite screens program.
The Texas Theatre, a grand single-screen cinema with a classic marquee and large auditorium with balconies, opened in the Dallas suburb of Oak Cliff in 1931. It was the first theater custom-built for movies in the Dallas area and was an innovator in audience comfort, as it featured an early form of air conditioning. The theater boasted a cooling and ventilation system that could blow cold air into the auditorium through a water-cooled system pumped from a 4,000-gallon tank.
The Texas Theatre became a part of American history on November 22, 1963 when a group of police officers rushed to the theater to arrest the man who had gone into the cinema without paying. That individual was later identified as Lee Harvey Oswald, who only hours earlier was responsible for the assassination of president John F. Kennedy.
In the years that followed, the theater went through a redesign and was managed by the United Artists theater circuit through 1989. Like other historic single-screen cinemas in the country, The Texas Theatre went through a rough time in the 1990s as suburban multiplexes claimed dominance over the U.S. exhibition market. The cinema changed hands several times until 2010, when its current ownership group, Aviation Cinemas, came into the scene.
Since then, the Texas Theatre has developed a loyal following in the Oak Cliffs area of Dallas through its distinctive programming, live events, community partnerships, and engaging social media presence.
The Texas Theatre’s Barak Epstein on using the Covid closures to further invest and expand on the theater.
Ten, twenty years from now this theater isn’t going to go anywhere. This is going to be a sustainable operation for a long period of time for movies, for live events, and for anything that people want to leave the house for. We will be there. Essentially, what I told [the bank] is that we’re in the “Leaving the House” industry. Whatever you want to say about all the businesses having trouble coming back, I still think people will want to leave their homes to go spend money somewhere that isn’t their house.
On being a satellite cinema site for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival
They were great partners to work with. They had tons of communication: online meetings, information to give, swag we gave out. They tried to make it as much a festival experience as they could and I think it was a pretty successful program. They’ve already announced that more people watched Sundance movies than ever before. They made it really accessible for people at home. We had people from other cities come physically to screenings and were like, ‘I never thought I could go to a Sundance screening,’ because it sounds so complicated if you’re not in the industry: going to Sundance, what does that mean?
On tailoring Sundance programming to the local community
We had three Texas films that we were showing essentially on the same day: Cusp, a documentary, Jockey, by Dallas-area filmmakers, and The Blazing World, which was shot around Austin. We did them all on the same day, and all three of those screenings were almost soldout––Covid sold-out, under 100 people, so we had plenty of space [for social distancing]. Those movies have ties to Dallas, so there was a lot of local press…We also got a lot of interest in Judas and the Black Messiah…if we had not been in COVID times we would have put 600 people in [the auditorium] from the amount of calls we took about it. And that’s even though we were only showing it twelve days in advance of its national release.