The Art (House) of War

The Magnolia Theatre promises to shake up Dallas' indie-film scene

This year, Magnolia will release ContentFilm's Wendigo, an art-house horror movie from writer-director Larry Fessenden. Bowles and Ryan Werner, another Shooting Gallery escapee who's now Magnolia Pictures' vice president of acquisitions, also have picked up distribution rights to Israeli writer-director Dover Kosashvili's romantic comedy Late Marriage and Harry Shearer's Teddy Bear's Picnic, a funny, low-budget look behind the velvet curtains of an exclusive Northern California retreat.

The film distribution business is nothing but politics, and Bowles doesn't want to so infuriate his competitors they won't play his films. Indeed, he says he even imagines a scenario where a Magnolia film might play the Inwood.

"We're just going to be very fair and put them in the places we think they have the best shot to do well," Bowles says. "That's what it comes down to...I like our theater a lot, and I look at it and think, 'Wow, it has amazing grossing potential, and I'd like to play everything there,' but it's not out of the realm of possibility one of our films could play another theater in another zone."

Not just about bums in the seats: Tearlach Hutcheson left Landmark to run the Magnolia’s theater operations last fall.
Mark Graham
Not just about bums in the seats: Tearlach Hutcheson left Landmark to run the Magnolia’s theater operations last fall.

It's doubtful, of course, that situation will ever arise: To book your film into a competitor's theater and not your own would smell, to some in the business, of surrender. Besides, Bowles says one of the main reasons he signed onto Magnolia was to use the theater as a marketing tool: When Magnolia Pictures signs a movie to a distribution deal, Magnolia Theatres will advertise that movie in its lobby and on its screens, using posters and trailers as part of the company's on-site advertising campaign. And Magnolia Pictures hopes to expand its number of sites quickly. Bowles says he expects to open half a dozen more theaters by year's end; Denver is likely to be the next location, and there have been hints Magnolia might even expand within the Dallas-Fort Worth market.

Last summer, the Angelika's opening was the feel-good event of the year. The Magnolia's debut likely will not engender as much good will among competitors. In the end, Cotter's words echo loudly: Only the filmgoers will benefit.

As John Pierson says, with a small laugh, "Dallas is now the Afghanistan of the art-film world."

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