Lincoln Plaza Cinema — the first stop for much acclaimed independent and foreign fare since 1981 — will shutter next month when its New York City lease ends, according to Deadline. Occupying an Upper West Side residential building’s basement, the six-screen theater has hosted exclusive engagements of films like “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Certified Copy.” It is operated as a partnership between the founder of the former New Yorker Films distribution company, Dan Talbot; France’s Gaumont Film Company, a mini-major studio; and local real estate investment film Milstein Properties, the owner of the site.
Talbot’s wife of 68 years, Toby, told Deadline that they “did everything we could to ask for the lease to be extended,” to no avail, as Milstein is “looking to make money” and “get everything [they] can.”
Multiple sources told IndieWire that Howard Milstein, chairman of Milstein Properties, had been seeking a buyer for Lincoln Plaza in recent months. Dan Talbot has reportedly been in poor health over the past year; he did not attend this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where he has regularly scouted for films for decades.
The news of Lincoln Plaza’s demise sent a shock wave throughout the independent film distribution community on Friday, as many figures in the specialty business who had relied on the theater to showcase highbrow foreign language films and other major arthouse releases wondered what a new owner might do with the theater. Some speculated that Landmark Cinemas, which recently opened a new location on 57th Street in the wake of reports that its longtime Lower East Side location would close down next year, would be unlikely to acquire the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas without radically changing its business model.
“Landmark doesn’t seem all that interested in preserving independent film,” said one long-time distributor, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointing out that the chain rarely showcasing foreign language films. Another name that came up was real estate mogul Charles Cohen, who recently acquired the Quad Cinema downtown. “If Charles Cohen takes it over, they’ll probably keep it the way it was,” said one insider.
While the Talbots will no longer hold the lease — or act as curators, handpicking works by Federico Fellini, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Robert Altman, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Woody Allen, and others — sources said there is interest in maintaining the space as a multiplex. The couple previously operated three additional, successive Manhattan theaters between the 60s and 80s: the New Yorker Theater, Manhattan’s Cinema Studio, and Metro Theater.
A closing event is being planned on January 21 for the Broadway space, located steps from where the annual New York Film Festival takes place. Lincoln Plaza Cinema’s Lower East Side arthouse counterpart, Landmark Sunshine Cinema, will also close in January 2018. Demolition paperwork was submitted for that site in November, but the Department of Buildings’ final decision has not been announced. Toby Talbot, 89, is the author of “The New Yorker Theater and Other Scenes from a Life at the Movies,” a 2009 memoir with a foreward by Martin Scorsese.
In an interview with The New York Times at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Dan Talbot called the movie industry “not a business,” but “a casino.” He continued, “I don’t think it’s worse or better [today] — it’s just different.”
Lincoln Plaza Cinema is currently showing “Darkest Hour,” “Loving Vincent,” and “Wonder Wheel.”
UPDATED (December 16): A spokesperson for Milstein Properties provided the following statement: “Milstein Properties built 30 Lincoln Plaza in 1978, we are long-term members of this community and have played a central role in nurturing this special theater. There is vital structural work needed to repair and waterproof the plaza surrounding the building that cannot be completed while the space is in use, and will begin now that the cinema’s lease has expired. At the completion of this work, we expect to re-open the space as a cinema that will maintain its cultural legacy far into the future.”
—Additional reporting by Eric Kohn