Counting Down to Sundance: Our Interview With Sundance Cinemas' General Manager Rob Arcos

When it comes to film, the man in Houston who knows it all is Rob Arcos. We've known him since he was a young chief of staff at the Landmark River Oaks Theatre and we were just the guy who made them stay late every Saturday night so we could run The Rocky Horror Picture Show. From there, he rose steadily through the Landmark chain to oversee all of the Houston market before leaving to open his own video rental store.

We've covered the sad loss of Movies! The Store previously and our sentiments about the institution have not changed in the slightest. It was the last of a dying breed, a dinosaur with all the awesomeness that label implies. Arcos ran the one place left in the city where you could visit with a film nerd and go home with exactly the film you didn't know you needed to see, but that you definitely did need to see. Without him we never would've given An Education a chance, and it was his recommendation more than ours that finally convinced the Wife With One F that Trick 'r Treat, possibly the best horror movie of the last decade, was worth watching.

Now Arcos brings his personal touch, community energy and consummate professionalism back to the big-screen market. Sundance Cinemas have hired him to serve as general manager for the Houston location when it opens in late November in the same theater district location that the Angelika previously operated in before shutting down unexpectedly last year.

Sundance Cinemas is a chain dedicated to showing independent, documentary and foreign films to American audiences. They are a part of the Sundance Group started by Robert Redford in 1981 that includes the famous film festival and television channel, and have undertaken a $2.25 million renovation to the Angelika location. Arcos invited us over to the still evolving space for a brief talk. He declined to show us his baby in its current form, but did promise us a hard-hat tour in the coming month once the cinema was closer to completion.

"You've never seen anything like what we're going to give you," promised Arcos after a few minutes of projector horror stories and reminiscences of the midnight employee screenings. "It's going to be very intimate, very elegant. Really, it's a movie experience like no other."

Theaters in the Sundance chain have some truly ambitious ideas behind them. The first of many exciting features he mentioned was the ability for patrons to reserve specific seats in the auditoriums either online, at the box office or at ticket kiosks. The days of waiting in line and strategically placing jackets and popcorn bags to mark territory are effectively over. No more pushing and shoving.

In addition, Sundance is doing away with the seats you're familiar with in lieu of deep, comfortable, love-seat sized chairs, each with a low table at hand for setting your food or, more likely in our case, your alcohol.

Oh yes, Sundance will pick up where Angelika left off by including a bistro and a full bar. Arcos has promised some real quality in the food, and frankly we can't wait. Dinner and a movie at Alamo Drafthouse was a pretty typical date for us, but the quality of their food seems to have deteriorated a bit over the years.

Alamo, as well as Arcos's previous employer River Oaks, stand as the main competition to Sundance in the non-gigaplex Houston market, though he doesn't necessarily see it that way.

"I think there's more than enough audience to go around," Arcos said. "Alamo is a very different experience than you'll get here. Don't get me wrong. I love Alamo, and I go all the time, but you go there for a different form of entertainment."

"Like how the only way you should've seen Grindhouse was at Alamo drinking beer out of a bucket, but the only way you should've seen Girl on the Bridge was tucked away in the upstairs at River Oaks?" we asked.

"Exactly. Completely separate forms of entertainment. And while River Oaks offers many of the same films we will, they only have three screens. Films tend to run there for weeks or months at a time. Distributors are very excited that more screens for indie film are opening up here. There's plenty for everyone"

The picture that Arcos and Sundance painted for us is a theater interested in returning a sense of occasion to going to the movies. Even as we sat cross-legged taking notes on the cement floor while belt sanders whined in the distance, we could see the elegance that will make up the final product. Soft wood accents, earth tones, cathedral ceiling are already setting the stage.

That's not to say that Sundance isn't also bringing innovation into their presentation. One of the things they plan to do is host filmmakers via Skype, allowing audiences to interact with auteurs in a way impossible until recently. In addition, this January the Houston location will be included as part of Sundance's policy of sending directors and their films selected for the Sundance Film Festival out to all over the country to give the rest of America a chance to be a part of the fun. Tickets for the event will be available in December.

One thing Houston can count on: Sundance has already shown remarkable acumen in hiring Houston's most knowledgeable and energetic film cheerleader in Rob Arcos. No one in the city is more excited about the experience Sundance is promising, and no one else in the city is more qualified to make it happen. This winter will be a good time to go to the movies in the Bayou City.

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