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Charles S. Cohen on Plans for the Newly Acquired Landmark Theatres

After seven years coveting fellow billionaire Mark Cuban’s Landmark Theatres, distributor, producer and real estate magnate Charles S. Cohen can finally call the chain of U.S. movie houses his own.

Purchased for an undisclosed price last week following a seven-month negotiation, Cohen Media Group walked away with 52 theaters housing 252 screens in 20 markets, adding to Cohen’s portfolio of luxe art houses (New York’s Quad Cinema among them) and deepening his admiration for and ties to American cinema.

Variety caught up with Cohen to discuss the future of Landmark’s relationship with Netflix, the ever-contentious theatrical-window debate and texting in the dark.

A lot of people see this as a win for the theatrical establishment. There were rumors Netflix or Amazon would buy the chain.
I had been in the hunt for this seven years ago when it was put on the market, and I was very disappointed when they decided to take it off. Seven months ago, when I learned it was available, we jumped. I’m a big believer in the theatrical experience. There’s nothing better in life than watching a film that’s been created by someone who puts their heart and soul into it. You want to see it on a big screen, and you want to see it with an audience of people.

All the other platforms are great, and anywhere people can see cinema and appreciate it should be encouraged, [but] Landmark is a terrific platform, and I’m thrilled to receive the baton.

What is the condition of the theaters? Do you anticipate upgrades like reclining seats?
That is a question I can’t answer without rolling up my sleeves more, but I’m not a believer you should go to sleep. It’s hard enough to stay awake in movies at my age. There are a lot of gimmicks out there: Have a steak dinner; have some fried chicken. To me that’s too distracting, and that takes away from the seriousness of what an artist is asking you to consider. For independent, art house and foreign-language films — and the classic films, which are near and dear to me — the environment and the venue is important.

Will the acquisition affect your other theaters?
No, I think it’s all complementary. It shows the entertainment world that I’m serious about my passion. I’ve never considered anything I’ve undertaken as work.

Landmark is a significant theatrical partner of Netflix. Will that continue?
I don’t think it should matter who is distributing the movie. If it’s given the theatrical platform Landmark provides and it’s from a great filmmaker, then that’s something to celebrate.

It does raise the question of shrinking theatrical windows. Where do you stand on that issue?
Everyone needs to sit down and come up with a solution that works. There’s probably a compromise out there — people shouldn’t look at it as giving in or being hurt. There are more and more films opening than ever before. I know, as a distributor, there are 20 to 25 films opening every week in New York alone. Isn’t it great to have all these options? I remember, if you wanted to see a film outside a theater, it was a 16mm in a public library.

Why do these conversations between the streamers and the exhibitors get so heated?
A lot of money goes into promoting a film. I go back to the days when films did not open in thousands of theaters. There was no window; [the next platform] was just broadcast television. I understand the logic behind opening on thousands of screens, and it’s great. A lot of movies don’t stay in the theater that long because there’s too much product seeking exposure. We need to figure out how everyone comes out ahead. The person we need to pay the most attention to is the filmgoer.

What about attracting younger audiences?
You create something that has a reputation that precedes itself. That’s what we’re blessed with for all this hard work and many years and substantial investment from Landmark’s previous owners. It becomes an aura; it communicates to young filmgoers and cinephiles that this is an important place to see films, because you’ll see films here that should transform your life. That’s what it has always done to me.

Would you consider letting people text in screenings, as others have suggested?
Why don’t you have them change their clothes in the theater? And take a shower too.

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