WASHINGTON — For the last five years, it’s provided D.C. residents an important venue for independent cinema, documentaries, foreign flicks, awards contenders and controversial movies such as “The Interview” last December.
Now, the West End Cinema is closing down on March 29.
“We have loved doing what we’ve been doing, but we’re facing increased occupancy cost and increased competition for (movie) titles, so we decided to leave with our heads held high, declare victory and depart the field,” says Josh Levin, the theater’s co-founder and general manager.
Levin grew up in D.C. and loved attending local theaters such as The Key, The Biograph and The MacArthur. He also frequented The Avalon and The Uptown, which are both still going strong.
“The Avalon was my neighborhood theater for a lot of my youth, and of course, the iconic film moment of my youth was seeing ‘Star Wars’ at the Uptown,” he says.
Decades later, in October 2010, he decided to take over the three-screen movie house at 23rd and M between Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom and Georgetown. The space had been vacant for seven years after the closing of The Inner Circle 567 Theater. It was Levin’s turn to run his own theater.
“We get a lot of George Washington University students and Georgetown University students. We get a lot of people who are generally considered empty-nesters, people who have moved back into the city after raising their kids in the suburbs [who] want to live in a vibrant part of town,” Levin says. “It’s a great part of D.C. to be in. Unfortunately, the numbers just haven’t added up.”
For the first year, the West End hit its budget projections, thanks to a successful run of “The Social Network” (2010). The second year, it exceeded them. But the past few years, attendance has fallen.
“Part of it is just the luck of the films that you get,” Levin says. “Part of it is the industry had a bad 2013 and a worse 2014. .. But I am 100 percent committed to the future of exhibition of film. It is how we view the highest form of visual art. … I believe very strongly that there is … a robust market for that experience where you leave your home, with a group of people and you see something on a screen that’s larger than your cell phone, larger than your TV in your living room, it is larger than life.”
Hear our full conversation on the movie business below: