A Theater Near You 

A 300-year-old city finally gets a big movie house.

click to enlarge art08_lead_movieland_200.jpg

Stepping into the expansive lobby entrance of Bow Tie Cinemas' Movieland on North Boulevard, you might at first get the feeling that there was a scheduling mistake. From its high ceiling with exposed rafters, trusses and ducts, to various walls left unaltered with original bricks, the building has the appearance of a work in progress, far from its completion. The industrial aesthetics are of course entirely intentional, a prime example of Bow Tie's attempt to provide moviegoers with a completely different cinematic experience. 

Founders and owners Charles B. Moss and his son, Ben Moss, will be giving Richmond its first multiplex in more than 30 years, and in a city that is more than a little cynical about these big development projects — look just up the road from the theater at a certain ballpark — the enthusiasm about this theater certainly seems well-founded. And  while a movie theater that doesn't require a drive to the outlying counties was a long time coming, the Mosses have no intention of recycling the Regal Cinemas experience. “We compete in a marketplace that has exactly that mentality [of sameness],” says the elder Moss. “And sometimes you find opportunities by being a contrarian, looking somewhere else then where conventional thinking takes you.”

A project close to three years in development for this family-operated company based in Connecticut, Movieland is Bow Tie Cinemas' 18th theater, and its first in Virginia. Amenities include 17 stadium-seated auditoriums of various sizes, and digital and 3-D projection: for its opening night: “The Jonas Brothers 3-D”!  The theater also eschews on-screen commercials, and features let's-all-go-to-the-lobby amenities such as pizza and, as soon as the liquor license clears, beer and wine, served at a small bar in the lobby. The license will also, the Mosses hope, allow patrons to take said adult beverages into the theaters. Tying into the menu of specialty drinks will be a weekly event known as Movies and Mimosas, which will serve up cocktails with classic motion pictures every Sunday at 11 a.m. For those less inclined to wake up before noon on a weekend, Movieland also features a weekly Insomnia Theater with a screening and live cast performance of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

The Feb. 27 opening will feature all the movies up for the best-picture Oscar, and will be the Richmond premiere of local screenwriter Megan Holley's film “Sunshine Cleaners.”

Filling the gap of what they felt to be an under-served market, Charles and Ben Moss were first introduced to the city of Richmond's burgeoning potential almost a decade ago. “We used to ride motorcycles together,” Ben Moss says. “For about 15 years we did that. And through doing that we went to a lot of different places all over the country and we developed a real interest and enthusiasm for urban [areas] where there was a real sense of community, a real sense of civic pride, a sense of history and the opportunity to engage in these kind of redevelopment projects. We were taking a trip in the Shenandoah Valley nine or 10 years ago and came to Richmond for a night and really enjoyed it. A little bit after that we embarked on an effort to find a project here.”

The father and son team eventually settled on renovating the old locomotive factory off North Boulevard. Built in the 1860s after the Civil War, Charles says, “What's inside is basically what was there before. To the extent that we could we kept every bit of steel, every bit of brickwork, all the various elements of the building, we kept intact and used them and tried to celebrate the history that was there. ... Our concept was to recreate this industry feel of a factory in the public space of the lobby but then once you got in the auditorium you have a totally different experience.”

While the Mosses acknowledge the benefits of the mindless escapism found in the standard blockbuster, they also understand that limited release independent productions are just as valuable. “We know and sense that there is a market in Richmond for people who want to see those kinds of films,” Charles says. “And while there is a limited opportunity to see them at one theater in Westhampton — which does a very nice job of it — there's only two screens. We're going to attempt to do — and again the market will tell us whether it wants it or not — is to play that type of film in a number of our auditoriums and take a shot at pictures that would never play in the Richmond market.”

This enthusiasm is certainly not lost on Richmond's own independent film community. “I think unlike a lot of developers that are just looking to turn a buck, these guys are looking to find a city where they think they can really spread their wings so to speak and do something that has an impact on the community,” says James Parrish, co-founder of the Richmond Moving Image Co-op, who has already started talking to Bow Tie Cinemas about the possibility of hosting future festival activities and repertoire screenings. “Frankly I think Richmond's overdue to have a first-run theater. Richmond hasn't had that kind of opportunity in a while and in some ways it's kind of a modern return to having a lot of options for those of us that want to see movies.” S

Movieland's grand opening is Friday, Feb. 27. 1301 N. Boulevard. www.bowtiecinemas.com.



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