Coming Distractions

Look at the run-down Inwood Theatre, with its peeling paint and cramped upstairs theaters and dusty-musty vibe. Now look at the brand-new Magnolia Theatre, with its digital projector and spiffy bar and five comfy screening rooms. Then ask yourself, if one theater were to, say, take over the other, which way would you want the deal to go down? Sorry. Wrong answer.

On Thursday, the Inwood's parent company, the Landmark Theatres chain of art houses, will assume control of the Magnolia. This will happen despite that just one month ago, the Landmark's new owners told Buzz that the Inwood and Magnolia would remain "extremely separate entities" for the time being--that time being very short, apparently. This takeover comes as no surprise, though: Todd Wagner bought the chain with business partner Mark Cuban in September, and both are also partners in Magnolia.

Wagner is out of the country and couldn't comment on the deal. Also unavailable was Landmark President Paul Richardson, who will remain in that position. Marina Bailey, head of Landmark marketing, confirmed the takeover, adding that Landmark will also assume control of Magnolia's theater in Boulder, Colorado.

All of this is good news for at least one person. Austin's Bill Banowsky, the Magnolia's founder and boss, tried to buy Landmark three years ago but couldn't secure the capital. Now, someone else gets to foot the bill (upward of $40 million, which is what the chain sold for in 2000), and he gets to recoup his investment in the Magnolia and then move over to Landmark after all. Sources close to the deal say Banowsky will also remain CEO of Magnolia Pictures, which will still acquire films for distribution; Eamonn Bowles will stay on as president.

What this means for other Magnolia and Inwood staffers is less certain, though Bailey insists, "No staffing changes are anticipated." Banowsky says he can't comment on any specifics about the deal, but he does insist that Tearlach Hutcheson, who has run the Magnolia since it opened in January of last year, will have an "expanded" role in the Dallas market by running both theaters. Hutcheson likely will oversee the planned renovation of the Inwood, which Wagner said in September will be a "test tube" for redos of the other 53 Landmark theaters around the country.

"I expect Tearlach to have a very meaningful role in the Dallas market," Banowsky says. "He's done an absolutely amazing job for us." Sources say that even before last year was out, the Magnolia was making money, and the theater managed to land films that Landmark wanted to book into the Inwood, including The Human Stain and the forthcoming In America, which is one of this year's best movies.

Buzz will admit it's a little skeptical about the takeover: Two years ago, Landmark's Paul Richardson promised that the Inwood would be renovated to compete with the Angelika Film Center in Mockingbird Station, the first comer on the art-house scene. But little was done, aside from some surface touch-ups. One source says Richardson's hands were tied by Landmark's penny-pinching owners, who weren't a couple of billionaires looking to remake the movie business in their own images. As long as they turn the Inwood into a luxury box and keep their hands off the Magnolia, we'll be just fine.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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