Veteran indie exhibitor Ted Mundorff, longtime president and CEO of Landmark Theatres, shocked the specialized film industry with his unexpected resignation October 24. While Landmark confirmed his exit, the company offered no further information. However, circumstances suggest his departure was not amicable: An email to his Landmark address returned with a boilerplate message stating that Mundorff is no longer is with the company, along with new contact information.
The backdrop to all of this is Landmark’s acquisition late last year by the media group of Manhattan real estate mogul Charles Cohen. He also owns Cohen Releasing, which has a significant interest in foreign film as well as a large catalog of classic films. Cohen previously operated Manhattan’s Quad Cinema, which is now part of the Landmark chain.
Mundorff’s abrupt resignation could be written off as a matter of bureaucracy, a clash between two high-powered leaders who couldn’t get along following an acquisition. However, what makes this executive shuffle so disturbing goes beyond the principals.
From production through distribution and exhibition, specialized film industry is a small and fragile ecosystem, and exhibitors are the final link of expertise in creating innovative ways to find an increasingly elusive audience. When no one can afford to make a mistake, the long-term business value of someone like Mundorff stems from not only experience and entrepreneurship, but also trust and familiarity. While Cohen clearly has a real passion for specialized film, it’s an adjunct from the real-estate business that made him a billionaire. For his acquisition to succeed in its core mission, he will need to replace Mundorff with someone who has a similar level of credibility and commitment — and it’s not clear that such a person exists.
Charles Cohen with director Sameh Zoabi at a special screening of Cohen Media Group’s film “Tel Aviv On Fire” at Landmark at 57 West.
A widely popular figure within the industry, Mundorff oversaw a well-regarded staff out of Landmark’s West Los Angeles headquarters and offered a diverse and unique skill set. He managed distributor relations and programming strategy as well as matters of real estate, financing, marketing, operations, and other vital parts of running a theater chain. He had also had the invaluable talent for what was often the trickiest part of the job: interacting with a series of owners who knew less about his business than he did.
For the industry, there’s immediate concern over what Mundorff’s exit means for the future of Landmark. There is no single executive at the company, nor inside the New York-based Cohen organization, who would seem a natural successor.
There’s also the larger question of what this might mean for the privately held chain. Landmark consists of 252 screens in 27 markets nationwide, including multiple key theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Washington, and San Francisco. They offer one-stop shopping that guarantees placement and are a lifeline for smaller specialized distributors.
Since Cohen’s acquisition, there has been no indication of strategy changes at Landmark. Many of the theaters are of older vintage, and leased rather than owned; during Mundorff’s time, the company built or revamped several theaters. The Landmark on Los Angeles’ West Side is a core theater included in almost any major platform opening. Mundorff also oversaw the creation of Manhattan’s Landmark at 57 location, which is regarded as one of the most attractive cinema complexes.
Whatever the various dynamics may be, whoever Charles Cohen chooses to replace Mundorff will tell the industry how he regards Landmark’s legacy and his own commitment to the company serving as a central voice in specialized film.