The Keystone’s third incarnation

Two former competitors have now joined forces to bring the Keystone movie theater back to life

Art and foreign films will be filling up screens at the Century Riverside, seen here in this shot taken last fall.

Art and foreign films will be filling up screens at the Century Riverside, seen here in this shot taken last fall.

Photo By David Robert

This past summer, the pleasure of having plenty of big, state-of-the-art screens for movie viewing in the Truckee Meadows came with a nasty price: the demise of the Keystone II Cinema at the Reno Hilton.

After a six-month layoff, the Keystone—the movie theater that will not die—returns in its third incarnation in 18 years at the Century Riverside 12 in downtown Reno. “Keystone at the Riverside” will feature a series of art and independent films starting March 15 and running through the early summer, with former Keystone II Cinema owner Lyndy Mercer booking movies on one screen.

“We’ve been watching what Lyndy Mercer has done for the art film market in Reno,” says Century Theatres Vice President of Marketing Nancy Klasky. “We’re really excited she is on our team and helping us out.”

This type of alliance is unprecedented for Century Theatres, according to Klasky. “Keystone at the Riverside” is the first time the San Rafael, Calif.-based motion picture exhibitor has engaged with a former local competitor to promote art and independent films.

Mercer says she was approached by Century just a few days after the screens at the Reno Hilton venue went dark, and the recent announcement of the film series comes after many months of brainstorming and negotiating.

“Sometimes things change in business and are never the same again, and this looked like one of those times for me,” says Mercer.

The unlikely pairing comes after years of the two factions often bidding for the same films. Five years ago, a movie like Shakespeare in Love would have been a lock for Mercer’s theater, but a shift in the way distributors marketed their independent pictures resulted in more high-profile art films going to the state-of-the-art venues instead of the “art houses.” Nationwide, this has made it harder for venues such as the old Keystone to secure prints of high-profile art films, meaning they’re having to pick up more obscure movies as a result. While those obscure films have a place in the market and their own special appeal, the revenue they produce is often not enough to keep a theater in business.

Mercer has been bringing art films to the Truckee Meadows since 1982, when she opened the original Keystone Cinema at Keystone Square. That venue closed in 1988, and was soon replaced by the Keystone II Cinema at the Reno Hilton, which operated successfully for over a decade, boasting those infamous couches and a somewhat quiet alternative to the chaotic scene at the now-defunct Century Theatres near the Peppermill.

The Keystone II Cinema’s closing came after a three-year decline in grosses due to national trends and the emergence of three state-of-the-art multiplex cinemas in our area. While Century built two of those facilities, the company only became involved in the Riverside 12 when beleaguered film exhibitor Regal Cinemas pulled out before the first fireworks went off at the grand opening.

Speaking on behalf of the Reno Redevelopment Agency, city spokesperson Chris Good said the city had nothing to do with the agreement.

“We didn’t have a direct hand in this decision, but we think that bringing art films to the Riverside 12 is an attractive one,” Good said. “There’s an arts and culture explosion going on downtown, including the artists’ lofts at the Riverside, the new live theater on North Virginia, new galleries and now the developments at the Riverside 12.”

The move by Century comes at a time when the theater giant has been expanding its involvement with art and independent films. In November last year, Century opened CineArts, a six-screen art theater in Evanston, Ill., at the same location of a 12-screen multiplex running more commercial fare. Klasky states that the theater, the nation’s first all-THX, all-stadium seating art theater, is a huge success.

“It’s really working out well in Evanston,” she says. “We know that if patrons have a theater as nice as the Riverside 12, moviegoers will rediscover art films, because it’s a lovely place to see a movie.”

Century Theatres has been doing a better job bringing movies perceived as “art films” to the area. The Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? has enjoyed a successful run at Century Park Lane, and You Can Count on Me has had an extended run at the Riverside 12. These films came to the Reno area when there were only a few hundred prints nationwide.

“People in Reno love movies, and they’ve proven it with the level of attendance at the Century Theatres,” Klasky says. “This makes it easier for us when we go to a distributor and request one of their 300 prints for Reno.”

With Mercer’s connections and know-how and the booking power of Century, both high-profile and obscure art and independent films may find their way to Truckee Meadows screens faster than before. Therefore, the future of art and independent film in Reno depends solely on the public’s willingness to embrace it.

While the films being booked for the Reno series are currently slated for one- or two-week runs, overwhelming public support for those films could result in them being held over and moved to other screens besides the one designated for the Keystone. It is not within the exhibitor’s interest to drop a film from its slate of movies if it is consistently selling out. And if “Keystone at the Riverside” is well-received during its initial series, the arrangement could be extended.

While other options for a new arts theater in town—such as taking over the theaters at Reno Town Mall or building a new facility at the Riverside Hotel—were investigated over the years, Mercer decided that none of those options were economically viable for the Keystone. By teaming with Century for “Keystone at the Riverside” to bring art and independent film to the Riverside 12, she feels confident that film lovers in our area will embrace the opportunity to view films in the spirit of the Keystone theater in a technically superior facility.

“I loved the Keystone II, but I see ‘Keystone at the Riverside’ as something that can be even better … a nice addition to the downtown arts and culture scene,” she says.

The “Keystone at the Riverside” series will kick off March 15 with the Reno premiere of the Oscar-nominated film Pollock, starring and directed by Ed Harris. The series will continue with Before Night Falls, featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by Javier Bardem, House of Mirth starring The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson and a newly restored version of the Beatles’ classic A Hard Day’s Night. Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, one of last year’s finest movies, starring Oscar-nominated Ellen Burstyn, will also make its Reno debut as part of the series.