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Hansen Decides to Close Brew & View PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 23 August 2005 18:00
Devin Hansen understands that some people might feel betrayed. He remembers what he said when he opened the Rocket cinema earlier this year, making what many saw as an implicit promise to remain loyal to the Brew & View.

In these pages in May, Hansen said he couldn’t close the 65-seat Brew & View, which he opened in 2002, in favor of the 175-seat Rocket, a much larger theatre just a few blocks away in the District of Rock Island. “I guess I have too much attachment to the first,” he said. “That’s the heart and soul of my business.”

Three months later, Hansen announced that he’s closing the Brew & View on Friday, August 26, following screenings of Brotherhood of the Wolf and Undercover Brother – the very first movies shown at the Brew & View. Late last week, plants and pictures from the Brew & View had already been carted over to the Rocket.

“My wife was totally shocked” about the decision, Hansen said. “We had a huge, heated discussion for weeks. ... This is one of the hardest things I’ve done. ... I was sleepless for nights, just thinking about it.”

Hansen said he’s giving up one business to save the other; he said that if he kept both Brew & View and the Rocket open, he could foresee the day when he’d have to close both of them. “I looked at it as a financial decision,” he said. “It was a survival question.”

So movie fans who adored the intimate atmosphere and idiosyncratic charm of the Brew & View – along with the films it brought in – are welcome to mourn. But Hansen is still committed to bringing in the best of independent cinema, and he’ll be able to devote more time and resources to improving the Rocket.

Hansen is calling the move a “consolidation,” but patrons will notice some differences in film selection and showings. Independent and artier movies will be relegated to matinees – such as 4 and 6 p.m. – while mainstream fare will be shown at night.

Furthermore, Hansen said, the art-house movies he does show will tend toward the mainstream. He views his audience in segments, and movies he might have brought in to appeal to just one of those groups might fall by the wayside now in favor of pictures with broader appeal. So what Hansen calls the “niche” film – he cites the bowling documentary A League of Ordinary Gentlemen and the porn documentary Inside Deep Throat as two examples – might never make it here under the new configuration. He added that only one or two movies a month might be cut from the schedule.

But moving independent cinema to the Rocket could pay major dividends to film lovers. The fact is that one of the Brew & View’s aesthetic draws – its size – was one if its biggest handicaps in terms of securing movies. “It’s just too small,” Hansen said. For many independent films, studios only strike a few hundred prints, and priority is given to big theatres in large markets, because the studio takes a percentage of ticket sales. With the Brew & View’s capacity and the Quad Cities at best a second- or third-tier market, “we’re on the bottom of the list,” Hansen said. “We can’t make the studios enough money.” By moving all operations to the Rocket, Hansen said, he can eliminate one of those barriers. The result? Hot indies – such as this summer’s Murderball, The Aristocrats, and Grizzly Man – might find their way here while the media is still buzzing about them, rather than a few months later.

Hansen said he’ll rely on patrons to help him select his movies. The Brew & View/Rocket Web site (http://www.qcbrewandview.com) has re-instituted a Web poll, asking visitors to choose among Murderball, 2046, Grizzly Man, and The Aristocrats.

And the Rocket allows Hansen to do more in terms of special events. After housing Circa ’21’s Winnie the Pooh while the venue cleaned up after a fire, he recognized that he can bring in a much wider variety of theatrical and musical events with the Rocket.

In one way, the Rocket’s new format mimics the Brew & View’s original M.O., with art movies during the day and mainstream flicks at night. And, of course, Hansen’s original target location for the beer-and-a-movie house was the Rocket. So now the proprietor can fulfill his original vision.

But many patrons had hoped he could keep both places afloat, even though the Brew & View, because of its limited capacity, has always been touch-and-go financially. Hansen said Brew & View made money three months of the year – typically late winter and early spring – and lost money the other nine. With the box-office dry season of fall nearly here, he said, he had to make a decision about the venue’s future.

Hansen said he wasn’t sure what was going to happen when both the Rocket and Brew & View were open for business. “I didn’t expect to have them both packed every night,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

What he got was a miserable box-office year in which grosses for independent movies slumped seriously. As Edward Jay Epstein wrote in the online magazine Slate: “Even though the total audience at movie theatres declined during this period, this came mainly at the expense of independent, foreign, and documentary movies.”

It didn’t help matters that Showcase Cinemas 53 finally got some major competition in the form of the Great Escapes theatres in Moline. That battle for business was certainly a factor in both chains nabbing the year’s biggest indie hit: March of the Penguins. Hansen certainly thinks Penguins could have at least given the Brew & View a better shot at survival: “If we would have had that, things may have been different.”

Hansen also noticed that the Rocket might have been cannibalizing the Brew & View, even though their movies were drastically different. “After being open for a few months, people were tending to migrate over here,” he said, sitting in the Rocket’s lobby. “They were choosing the movies here over the movies there.”

So while the Rocket was able to snag Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Fantastic Four, and Land of the Dead for the Rocket on their opening days, the Brew & View withered. “I just took the gamble,” Hansen said, “and it didn’t pay off.”
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