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Two years ago, Houston lost almost a third of its venues for art and independent films when the Greenway Three, long noted for its offbeat offerings, was purchased by the AMC theater chain, converted to a dollar cinema, and eventually shut down. But on Friday, March 11, Houston movie buffs can expect to see their celluloid choices expand again when the Greenway -- saved, refurbished and rededicated to non-mainstream offerings -- opens its doors once more.

The company behind this resurrection is Landmark Theatres, which just last July took over the Saks Theatre on Post Oak and dedicated it to independents as well. The Saks has two screens, the Greenway three. Combined with the three screens at Landmark's flagship theater, the River Oaks Three, Houston now has eight commercial locations in which to see the sort of films many larger theater chains pass by.

But while film fans might be expected to take pleasure in the expansion, there's some concern that Landmark may be moving too far too fast. The Saks has yet to catch on with Houston's film audience, often screening its offerings to less-than-crowded auditoriums. Movies such as the well-regarded French import Jacquot have flopped there. If the Greenway suffers the same fate, some worry, Houston might end up losing instead of gaining in the expansion.

But according to Mindy Posey, Landmark's Houston manager, that's an unnecessary concern. The Saks faces the problem of having been built for big-budget releases, and its large auditoriums haven't always been a friendly environment for small films. The Greenway, Posey feels, is a more logical art-house acquisition. "We can support all these screens," she says. "With another location we might have been wrong [to expand], but the Greenway is already identified as an art house." And, Posey says, reputation is half the battle.

Indeed, the Greenway does seem to have the image Landmark is looking for. To many Houstonians, a "Greenway film" means one that, as likely as not, bears subtitles. In the words of one-time Greenway manager Greg Reinhart, "For some people, [the theater's] orange walls and French films go together." The Greenway has also been linked to Houston's annual film festival, the Worldfest. It's a link that will continue this year when the Worldfest screens its films at the Greenway and Saks.

Because of the auditorium size, says Posey, "we want Saks screens to make more than the River Oaks or the Greenway." Posey is particularly disappointed that she had to let Ruby in Paradise, booked into the Saks, leave Houston before it found its audience. Had the Greenway, with its screening-room intimacy, been open then, she feels, that might not have happened.

Posey hopes the new screens will mean that Landmark "gets everything we want." Beginning with 1992's The Crying Game, the art-house chain has enjoyed a highly profitable run. Additional screens make more sense now, says Posey, "because [more] people are making good films."

Posey made her comments while sitting in the bright, airy confines of the Greenway complex's food court, just outside the theater. She hopes that more people will be encouraged to seek out the underground moviehouse now that the complex surrounding it has been remodeled to make it less gloomy. The theater itself is also getting a touchup: new tiles will cover the old floor, and the walls are being painted.

"We're leaving some of the orange," Posey says, laughing. After all, they have an image to maintain.


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