Sundance comes to the Kabuki 

When the newly remodeled Sundance Cinemas Kabuki officially opens its doors to the public next Friday, it will instantly become the most attractive place to see movies in San Francisco.

The former AMC Kabuki octo-plex in Japantown (it was a nightclub before that) has been redesigned from stem to stern, with stadium seating and digital stereo surround sound in each of its eight auditoriums, plus the sort of extras that grown-up urban moviegoers dream about: civilized snacks, two cocktail bars/cafes, an attached restaurant, reserved-only seats for all shows, a special over-21 seating section with upscale nosherei, and a decorating scheme that makes use of recycled barn wood, live bamboo trees, repurposed metal trim, and a variety of stone surfaces.

It’s a visually textured environment in which to sip your Peet’s coffee, munch on a Flapjacks crunchy toffee bar, and watch art, independent, foreign and documentary films.

The subtly extravagant interior is the brainchild of Sundance Cinemas president and CEO Paul Richardson, who used Berkeley’s ELS as architect. In keeping with the times, the Kabuki’s materials as well as its operational aspects strive for sustainability. Although it’s not LEED certified, says Nancy Gribler, Sundance’s vice president of marketing, "It’s as green as any movie theater you’re going to find." The place looks more like a luxury health spa than a movie house. Talk about a destination.

But it’ll cost you.

Matinee adult tickets are $8.50; evenings $10.50; kids and seniors $7.50 at all times. To this is added San Francisco’s first-ever amenities fee, a sliding-scale surcharge of $1 to $3 depending on the day and show time. For instance, to catch a primetime screening of, say, the Bob Dylan biopic" I’m Not There" on a Friday or Saturday will set you back $10.50 plus $3 amenities fee per ticket.

Thus, you and a friend can count on spending $27 on seats alone, before you even confront the choice between cabernet or espresso.

What’s an amenities fee? Think of it as a premium _ the price you’re obliged to pay to be free of those irritating pre-show commercials, to be able to choose your own reserved seat (ticketing at the front "concierge" desk, in-theater kiosks, or online), to hear a live introduction of each film by a theater usher, and, in this best of all possible worlds, to generally help support Sundance founder Robert Redford’s stated ideal of giving independent filmmakers a place to call home.

Actor/filmmaker/philanthropist Redford’s Sundance is the earthiest of conglomerates, a combination of the Sundance Channel on cable TV, the Sundance Resort in Utah, the Sundance Catalog (the rich hippies’ Sharper Image), the eco-friendly Sundance Preserve, and the nonprofit Sundance Institute, father of the Sundance Film Festival. That annual event, perhaps the best known film fest in the country, is what ultimately gives credibility to Sundance Cinemas.

When the Kabuki promises to screen only art and indie films and to hold special showings of locally made movies with filmmakers’ discussions _ in addition to hosting the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival and the 2008 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival _ it’s the Sundance Film Festival’s reputation that’s on the line.

Opening week festivities include benefit events on Dec. 11, "Celebration of Japantown"; Dec. 12, a sold-out fundraiser for the San Francisco Film Society; and Dec. 13, for the LGBT Community Center of San Francisco.

The Kabuki is Sundance Cinemas’ second location. They opened a brand-new six-plex in Madison, Wisc. in May, and have plans to go into Chicago and Denver, with more North American markets to follow.

In motion picture exhibition business terms, their job is to challenge the stranglehold of Landmark Theatres on the art and independent market in the US. A difficult task, especially with that Amenities Fee. But there’s always the Sundance Kid cowboy touchy-feely magic to fall back on.

Says Gribler: "We want to make this feel like a community meeting place for film."

IF YOU GO

Sundance Cinemas Kabuki

Where: 1881 Post St. (at Fillmore Street), San Francisco

Tickets: $8.50-$10.50 plus $1 to $3 amenities fee

Contact:( 415) 929-4650 or www.sundancecinemas.com

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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