Jewel of the Mississippi: Theatres at Canal Place bring luxury and d-cinema to New Orleans revival


“I wanted to bring this new style of entertainment to New Orleans to celebrate the power of movies and demonstrate my confidence in, and commitment to, the renaissance of this city. I am excited to introduce this new approach to moviegoers in New Orleans. It is taking the experience of enjoying a movie to an entirely new level.”

George Solomon, CEO of Southern Theatres, is talking about the circuit’s latest project, the five-month, $4 million renovation of a 1988 Landmark Theatres art house in New Orleans into The Theatres at Canal Place.

For this particular location, Solomon and Southern pulled out all the stops in time for a midnight preview of Sex and the City 2. In addition to “state-of-the-art screens” and “flavorful dishes and cocktails delivered to your seat by a waiter,” the complex also includes “an upscale café and premium bar” called “Gusto” in the lobby. (See our sidebar at the end of article.)

To review the many and substantial changes, Film Journal International spoke to general manager Brian Jones, a 17-year veteran of exhibition and of equally long standing at Canal Place. “The layout is sort of the way it used to be,” he says about the before and after, “but completely different at the same time.” Upon completion of the original lease, Landmark continued on a month-to-month lease from February to September 2009. Southern took over on the 11th of that month, Jones continues, “and we stayed open to accommodate the New Orleans Film Festival.” Having been held at Canal Place since its inception, “we didn’t want to leave them shorthanded with no place to go. Our film buyer, Doug Whitford, actually helped to get some films for the festival.” After the conclusion of the subsequent Big Easy Short Film Festival, the old Canal Place cinema closed on Nov. 15.

Construction and renovations commenced at the beginning of 2010. “First they did the de-construction,” Jones explains, “and after about a month or so, things were put back… I say putting back,” he corrects himself, “but when you walked in here, it was a big empty space, more like a warehouse. You could see the support pillars, and guess where the old theatres used to be. Previously, there had been one large auditorium for about 300 people and three smaller ones of about just under 100 seats.”

In the remodel, the larger auditorium was reconfigured into two, bringing the total to five and 330 seats. The theatres’ capacities are smaller now—but with good reason. “Our luxury high-back seats are bigger, better and more comfortable,” Jones explains, “and the aisles are wider to allow for service between them”—not to mention the addition of stadium risers. “It’s not that huge kind of stadium seating that you find at megaplexes. More like a gentle incline, if you will, with the front-row seats on the floor, which then rise up gradually as that space gets higher and higher.” With the fifth-floor parking garage for the mall above, “there was no opportunity to go any higher then we are already.”

Going wider, however, was no problem in designing the lobby’s new luxuries. Jones estimates that between 8,000 and 12,000 square feet were added (some 1,000 square meters) to accommodate both the bar with counter seating for a dozen people on the far left, and the intimate lounge area in the middle. Everything is enclosed by “a beautiful glass wall” that has also been extended beyond where the old theatre used to begin. “It has made a great difference in terms of appearance,” Jones opines. “We have a completely different type of theatre now.” In the old days, “you used to feel like you were in the mall and food court: There’s a Sbarro’s over here and Mrs. Fields over there and there’s a little theatre... Now when you go inside, it’s a completely different atmosphere. Because of the glass wall, you see the mall, but it doesn’t look like you’re actually in the mall but rather part of a completely different space.”

The interior look was created by local design firm Chrestia Staub Pierce and the architectural design by Beck Architecture. “We now have jazz music playing in the lounge area,” Jones proudly notes. “Art Deco design and décor are everywhere. It’s such a beautiful space to look at. I have been working here every single day since we opened and, yet, it doesn’t feel like I’m in the mall at all.”

Facility aside, what Jones enjoys the most is “having face-time with the owner, George Solomon. I can sit down and talk to him every day… That’s just fantastic. It makes my life so much easier that somebody is right there who actually listens, cares about you and is someone who really understands New Orleans. I love the new place and I love the new company.”

A key element of The Theatres at Canal Place is its NEC digital projection. In the words of Pierre Richer, president and chief operating officer of NEC Display Solutions, “It is an honor to continue our work with George Solomon of Southern Theatres. New Orleans is being restored one project at a time, and we are very privileged to play a small role.”

“George Solomon and his team based their selection of NEC on two criteria,” says Jim Reisteter, general manager of the Digital Cinema Division, detailing his relationship to the 268-screen circuit that was made official during this past ShoWest. “Obviously, projector performance is crucial and we had several test units installed. Equally important was the availability of financing through NEC,” he explains about Digital Link II, the joint initiative of RealD and NEC’s reseller, Ballantyne Strong, to which NEC Financial Services provided the backing. “We offer a couple of different programs to suit exhibitors, which ultimately come back to an equipment lease.”

According to Reisteter, “We’ve shipped over 2,100 units in North America and over 3,500 units worldwide.” NEC has also committed and provided d-cinema deployment financing of $23 million over the past 12 months. “In the U.S., we are installed in most of the major circuits,” Reisteter says, naming more than dozen clients. (For more information about d-cinema financing, see the exclusive report in this issue, visit or contact

“The package covers the entire digital system,” Reisteter says, including the projectors, GDS servers and related d-cinema components. “It’s all-inclusive. We also put in our large-screen displays in the lobby.”

NEC is in the process of a full deployment across AmStar Cinemas and The Grand Theatres, as the brands owned by Southern are named, “but at Canal Place specifically, we have 46-inch [117-cm] displays—seven NEC4615 for the poster cases and two P461 above the concession area.” While they “may have the same basic technology” as HDTVs for the home, he assures, “these units are heavy-duty with commercial-grade construction and different input options, designed with high-impact glass in front to last a lot longer. In a theatre environment or any kind of digital signage environment for that matter, these units are subject to 18 to 20-hour-per-day duty cycles.”

Performing his duty, Reisteter was on-site at Canal Place during the second week of May. “There was literally just drywall up there,” he recalls. “No projectors yet and the lifts weren’t even in place. Neither were the seats, but over the next two-and-a-half weeks, it became a beautifully finished product. They gutted the place…and then moved it totally upscale. It has a real intimate atmosphere.”

Back to his domain, “putting the projectors in was probably a matter of two or three days,” he says, giving credit to the contracted installation team. “There is no projection booth, only a central server room with all the digital and sound equipment and the sole 35mm projector of the entire complex.”

“I’m an old-school guy,” admits Jones, prefacing his comments about that very machine. “I enjoy the look and the feel and the smell of film. I like that aspect of getting down there and working with it.” Running The Secret in Their Eyes on 35mm as we conducted our conversation, he tells us, “It feels great threading up that projector and starting it. I am very happy that we still have a 35 that I still get to play around with.” What he doesn’t miss is carrying around the film canisters. “No, no,” he laughs. “I can tell you about countless suit pants that I had ripped dragging around those cans.”

Operationally too, “digital is much easier than running a 35,” Jones admits. “Projecting 35 takes skill. You have to understand the physics of film and how it all works so that you can correct mistakes. Getting really proficient at 35 takes a while, it just doesn’t come naturally.” Digital cinema by comparison? “As long as your projectors and equipment all are working, a monkey could almost do it,” he laughs. “You hit a button, boom, it goes. At the end of the show, it stops itself. For the next show, you walk in there and hit that button again. It’s very, very simple compared to the 35.”

As far as the image goes, “ten years ago, I would’ve told you, I don’t think that I’ll ever see the day where digital supersedes film. But it has
… Seeing the kind of image that these new projectors are able to put out onscreen, I was like: ‘Wow, this is happening now!’ They’ve gotten to that point where it is as good, if not better an image… You have digital sound too and you don’t have to worry about dust and scratches coming on. Digital looks great. It sounds fantastic and it’s so easy to do.”

With that kind of endorsement, Reisteter proudly offers another innovation at Canal Place for our consideration. “Each one of the five 3D-capable NEC projectors is placed in an enclosure pod suspended from the ceiling,” he explains. “There is a lift attached to steel beams at the ceiling joints that allows the projector to be lowered for lamp changes and other maintenance.” The server room as well is “very elegant,” with GDS SX2000 servers cabled out with HDSDI and working on the GDS theatre management system. While the public may not notice any of this, “someone in the industry can appreciate the artwork in the architecture of it.” And, indeed, he confirms, “There were a lot of oohs and ahhs from exhibitors in the know.”

Having chosen the NC2000 brings other advantages, not the least of which is its 218-pound weight (100 kg). “With our new Series II model, we have improved the air flow along with serviceability and durability of the filters, so maintenance is not a monthly thing.” Obviously in this projection set-up, “the angle and the throw are slightly different than in a more traditional auditorium,” he advises. “But, again, the NC2000 has a lot of flexibility to accommodate an intricate and unique angle like this.”

Asked about the uniqueness of the cinema itself, Reisteter shares his favorite aspect. “I’ve seen a lot of auditoriums, clearly, but what impressed me most is the intimacy of The Theatres at Canal Place. It is a cozy environment where you can have your food and cocktails delivered, sit back and enjoy the movie in a relatively smaller auditorium. Yet you have the full feature of digital cinema and 3D. The craftsmanship is just exquisite and very, very high-end.”

Delicacies with Gusto

In our now 15-entrée history of serving “Dinner at the Movies” (, The Theatres at Canal Place cook up another twist, in that food items are available exclusively inside the auditorium. At least for now, confirms general manager Brian Jones. “We might add a lunch service somewhere down the line. We’re still getting our feet under us and lining up our ducks, seeing how all that goes. There definitely won’t be dinner service in the lounge area. It’s supposed to be a place were people get together to have a few drinks before the film or to talk about it afterwards. Food service would just be tieing up the limited space that we have.”

His personal favorites, so far, are “Prosciutto Panini and Monchhof Estate Reisling with caramel corn for dessert.” Popcornopolis also provides its Zebra Corn as the homemade “specialty” popcorn offerings include parmigiano and black pepper, white truffle oil and pimento and garlic flavor. All the food, menu and wine selections at “Gusto,” as the lounge area has been named, come from local chef and restaurateur, Adolfo Garcia ( Working with Jones are food and beverage manager Brian Craven and senior theatre manager Jack Long. “For now, we just want to keep it to what each one of us knows how to do best,” Jones says of the division of labor between food and film.

Traditional theatre concessions are available as well, “straight up at the stand,” he says. “But you can also have your server bring them to you in the auditorium.” In terms of offerings, The Theatres “still have a big popcorn popper putting out that delicious smell and the Coke fountain, of course. In addition to Goobers, Raisinets, Junior Mints, M&Ms and such, we also offer additional specialty items like cookies from Angelo Brocato, candy from Southern Candymakers, as well as Italian sodas and flavored iced teas that Adolfo has created the flavors and mixes for.”

It’s about creating an experience, Jones summarizes. “As soon as you walk through the door, you’re part of that experience: You have the hosts who take you to your seats, the servers who take your order. You can just come and stay in the lounge, if that’s what you want to do. You don’t even have to watch a film. It’s kind of the best of both worlds. And it is so much different from what the moviegoing experience was like in New Orleans.”