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This issue of Desert Companion includes a travel guide to mountain towns — where to stay, eat, and play, and what to see in five high-elevation, low-stress destinations within a day’s drive (or less!) of Las Vegas. Bonus: an adapted excerpt from the forthcoming book Chasing Giants: In Search of the World’s Largest Freshwater Fish.View as a flipbook or download the PDF on Issuu >>

The Next Arthouse

Shears cutting a role of film
Illustration: Ryan Vellinga
Photos: Unsplash, Pexels

Can the Beverly succeed where recently closed Village Square did not?

When Act III Theatres opened its Village Square location at Sahara and Fort Apache in December 1997, it was the only movie theater in the fast-growing Summerlin area. Due to various corporate mergers, the expanding Regal Cinemas chain absorbed the theater in 1998, and it quickly established itself as the city’s primary location for what movie theater bookers call “specialty” releases: independent, foreign, and arthouse films. Previously, some of those films had been booked at the two-screen Gold Coast Twin, which closed in 2000, but the 18-screen Regal Village Square had more flexibility, as well as proximity to an audience eager for nonmainstream fare.

More than 25 years after its opening, on February 12, 2023, Regal closed the Village Square location, ending an era of moviegoing in Las Vegas. Less than a month later, a new era begins with the long-awaited Beverly Theater, at 6th and Bonneville downtown, celebrating its grand opening on March 3. No one planned it that way, but it’s hard not to see the two events as a symbolic passing of the arthouse-cinema baton, at a time when movie theaters are facing challenges on multiple fronts due to COVID-related shutdowns and the rise of streaming.

“I don’t attach Regal to arthouse films,” says Kip Kelly, the Beverly Theater’s creative director. “I don’t know that there was enough of a slate for me to really latch onto (Village Square) as an independent spot to see films.”

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With its single screen, the Beverly will focus more on booking arthouse releases, which Kelly estimates will make up 70-80 percent of the theater’s programming, alongside live music and literary events. Films will show seven days a week, between two and six times a day, with ticket prices set at $10.

Grand opening events include recent Sundance Film Festival premiere “Past Lives” and 2017’s “First Reformed” with a live appearance from filmmaker Paul Schrader. After that, Kelly anticipates a mix of first-run releases and repertory programming. Upcoming bookings include Oscar-nominated Polish drama “EO,” acclaimed documentaries “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” “Framing Agnes” and “Sirens,” and revival showings of Todd Haynes’ “Carol” and John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York.”

The Beverly’s state-of-the-art new facility, substantial support from namesake philanthropist Beverly Rogers, and location amid other major downtown cultural offerings instantly make it the most high-profile arthouse theater in Las Vegas. But there are other venues that provide alternative moviegoing options in town, from the drive-in screen at Snappy Burger on North Decatur (where recent showings range from “Back to the Future” to Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma”), to the long-running Sci Fi Center in New Orleans Square (which has a premiere event celebrating B-movie studio Troma Entertainment scheduled March 31 and April 1).

Local film festivals have also been longtime champions of independent and foreign films, and Kelly hopes to eventually include festival programming at the Beverly. For now, events such as Boulder City’s Dam Short Film Festival, the Las Vegas Black Film Festival (set for April 20-23 at Century 16 Suncoast), the Nevada Women’s Film Festival (June at MEET Las Vegas), and Sin City Horror Fest (November 1-5 at Art Houz Theaters) continue in other venues.

Those festivals have all returned to in-person events following some pandemic-era virtual editions. “Last year was our first year back (in person), and it was probably our best year ever,” says Nevada Women’s Film Festival executive director Nikki Corda. “I think people were just really ready to come back together for the film festival experience.”

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Not every movie theater survived the pandemic shutdown. Similarly, not every film festival has made it back. The Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival, once the longest-running film festival in Nevada, held virtual screenings on a regular basis through early 2022, but is now on hiatus as festival director Joshua Abbey works on a documentary about his mother, artist Rita Deanin Abbey. The Las Vegas Queer Arts Film Festival, which held two editions before the pandemic and mounted a virtual festival in 2021, will not be returning. “It was a challenge, trying to bring back that pre-pandemic momentum that the festival had going,” founder Kris Manzano says.

The Las Vegas Film Festival, which had become the premier general-interest film festival in town, still lists canceled 2019 dates on its social media and has made no announcements regarding future plans. Corda says she doesn’t know what’s going to happen with local film festivals in the future, adding, “Judging from our experience last summer, I feel positive about it.”

Kelly may discount the importance of Regal Village Square to the evolution of arthouse cinema in Las Vegas, but Corda is one of many local film mainstays who appreciated its value. Highlights of her experiences there included seeing the documentary “Three Identical Strangers” and Paolo Sorrentino’s “This Must Be the Place.” Manzano remembers going with a friend to see Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Sarah O’Connell of nonprofit Eat More Art Vegas recalls taking her kids to see the filmed version of George Takei’s Broadway production, “Allegiance.” “I went to see something before it left, but it’s empty on the (theatre listings) app,” local filmmaker Adam Zielinski said on February 14, a day before the theater’s initially announced closing date. “It’s heartbreaking.”

The Beverly should soothe some of that heartbreak for Zielinski and others, and Kelly plans to embrace the local film community, both festivals and filmmakers. “If there’s a filmmaker who’s put together something that is worthy of a screening or premiere in Las Vegas, then we can give them that opportunity,” he says.

Regal neglected Village Square toward the end of its run, leaving it with a broken HVAC system in summer 2022 and ending its lease as part of a company-wide bankruptcy restructuring. That appears unlikely to happen at the Beverly, which has Rogers’ and her staff’s full support. “We really designed this place for locals,” Kelly says. “We just want people to come here and keep coming back.”

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That’s been the dream of every arthouse cinema operator in Vegas for the past three decades. Now, it’s the Beverly’s turn to try and make it a reality.