West End Cinema, an art theater located in Washington, D.C.’s West End neighborhood, opened its doors in late October. Owner Josh Levin spoke to The Hatchet on WEC’s success and plans for the future.
Hatchet: What was West End Cinema’s primary goal upon opening?
Josh Levin: Primarily we exist to show independent, foreign and documentary films, as well as special events such as operas simulcast from Europe and other cultural events. And then our co-mission is to serve as a neighborhood movie theater for Foggy Bottom, West End, Dupont Circle and Georgetown. There was a time in Washington’s recent history where there were a half-dozen movie theaters within walking distance of where we are, and in recent years they’ve all closed. So, we feel that these are great neighborhoods that are completely underserved, and we hope to fill that void.
Hatchet: How has business been since opening?
JL: Very well. Business has been great. I wish it was the holidays all year round.
Hatchet: How are films brought into West End?
JL: We have a booker, who has more than 20 years of experience in the industry. And she works directly with distributors to get us the best available films.
Hatchet: Is there a certain criteria or quality looked for in potential films to be brought into West End?
JL: It’s hard to give a really concise answer because we’re so young in this business. I don’t really know yet what our signature is. Right now the criteria we have for picking films are their quality and whether we can identify a specific audience with a film. For example, we had a terrific documentary that was recently here called “Kings of Pastry,” about an annual competition in France. So, with a film like that we knew we could reach down to the culinary academies, to documentary fans, to French language and culture fans. So we knew we had to find people to tell about this film because the films that we’re able to get generally don’t have big national advertising budgets so you got to be able to target a core audience.
Hatchet: What does West End consider its core audience?
JL: We have a really interesting mix. We identify our audience as local, meaning in the surrounding neighborhoods, primarily. And then more broadly we have a really interesting demographic mix of seniors and students – people from the larger demographic who are interested in culture, foreign films, documentaries and indies.
Hatchet: Would West End ever consider hosting film festivals or other special events?
JL: Yes, we have been contacted by several festivals, and we’re doing some series programming of our own. For example, every Wednesday in February we’re showing a film from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. We are also working on a lineup of late-night and midnight films, which I think GW students might especially dig. And occasionally we’ll program a classic film retrospective.
Hatchet: Is there anything West End does to appeal directly to GW students?
JL: Well, we certainly welcome GW students and we offer discounted tickets for people with student ID’s. Our general admission is $11 and $9 for GW students. And if any of the GW students bring me a crepe from Crepeaway then it’s only five bucks.
West End Cinema is open for business to take back the role of the art theater in D.C. neighborhoods. Movie tickets are available online at www.westendcinema.com.