- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

Andrew Frank had a vision three years ago one that concerned his family's future, as well as area film buffs starving for the lack of a theater showing quality art films on a regular basis.
Thus was born Visions: Cinema/ Bistro/Lounge a combination theater, coffeehouse and restaurant soon to take over the site of the former Cineplex Odeon Embassy at the corner of Florida and Connecticut avenues NW near Dupont Circle, in the District of Columbia.
Construction begins this week for a scheduled opening in mid-June, thereby beating all other schemes that have surfaced periodically to replace such longtime landmarks as the Key and the Biograph.
Mr. Frank, 37, likes to point out that Visions will be the only "independently owned" theater of its kind in the area. Partners in the project are all local residents under 40 years of age.
Visions' primary function will be to show foreign and independent films that have few outlets locally and seldom any longevity. A second house included in the plan will be a slightly more luxurious venue for first run art films.
The restaurant has a bar with the necessary license already procured, meaning, in Mr. Frank's words, "we can have James Bond with martinis."
But popcorn, soda and candy goods will be available, too, for diehard film devotees who feel that drinking, munching and viewing are inextricably linked.
One of the more unusual features of the venture is the promotion of "founding memberships" sold as prepaid debit cards in amounts from $250 to $2,000.
Various benefits accrue from the ownership of the card. "Silver Screeners," students and people who are 60 and older, will be admitted free for nonholiday weekday matinees, for instance.
Another draw will be a 700-vehicle parking garage ($5 fee). Movie tickets at $7.75 most times will be sold over the phone and the Web, as well as from outside locations.
How such an ambitious scheme came about was the subject of a recent enthusiastic presentation by Mr. Frank, owner of the Sirius Coffee Co., and his Visions partners at Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse.
Nearly 150 potential subscribers turned up to listen to what organizers envision will be, in Mr. Frank's words, "the Politics & Prose for film buffs."
Unofficial godmother of the project is Carla Cohen, founder and owner of the popular Connecticut Avenue bookstore and coffeehouse, who spoke up first to lament the loss of art film houses.
"The demise of the Biograph and then the Key further aggravated our sensibilities. This [meeting] is just a testimony to the enormous feeling that we are being cheated out of seeing movies in a theater movies that are being made in the United States and everywhere else in the world," she says.
Presumably, she also was speaking for the 6-month-old twins of Mr. Frank, who were present as a sort of talisman of the future.
"It wasn't just enough to have a movie theater," Mr. Frank says before explaining the concept of Visions. "I want to leave the world a better place."
He felt "a need to involve the community" in the project the reason behind the membership cards. The number of cards issued initially will be limited to no more than 300.
The total cost of the project is $2 million, most of which the founding partners already have raised.
"Part of the money came from the Cafritz Company's willingness to be generous in leasehold improvements, and the rest is raised from local investors and a Small Business Administration loan," says Jonathan Zuck, a partner along with Andrew Mack, who is a childhood friend of Mr. Frank.
The Cafritz Co. is their landlord. Mr. Zuck a local entrepreneur like Mr. Mack also is a partner in the Sirius Coffee Co.
Since all the people involved are film buffs, the entire project the renovation through opening night is being chronicled in a film documentary by local filmmaker David Snider.
Members of what is called the support "team" include theater consultant Alan Rubin, one of the founders of the Biograph Theater. Andrew Mencher, director of operations for the Key Sunday Cinema Club, will be the Visions film programmer. The building's D.C. architects are Hickok Warner Fox Architects PC.
A mock program for the month of March showed theme-driven presentations under the title of "The Academy Award Catch-up Festival," complete with the announcement of "our annual Oscars night party on Sunday, March 26 at 5 p.m. Reserve your space on our Web site: www.VisionsDC.com."
The Web site is real but not, of course, the programming or the party at least not this month.
Plans call for a two-screen complex, with one auditorium seating 250 and another holding about 100 people. Lecturers and discussion groups will be part of a long-range program, details of which will be circulated regularly in a newsletter on the Web.
Special attractions include a balcony "skybox" with 32 seats "more or less like first-class airline seats" that can be rented out to watch a film or for private parties; a sidewalk cafe; silent films with recorded musical accompaniment (and occasional live music) in the lounge bar; and midnight showings of "cult classics" on weekends.
Food for sale will include Mediterranean, Indian and Middle Eastern tapas, chosen, says Mr. Frank, because they represent "hospitable cultures."
"We can have actors, writers from local colleges come talk," he notes in his enthusiastic presentation. "We want it to be a fun place. Yes, we'll have great films but, in addition, we want you to think a little differently about how you go see a film. Which means, you can actually have dinner, watch a film, then come out and have a nightcap and talk about the film.
"It's not good enough to go watch a movie and end up talking about the movie on the way home in the car. We're designing a space that is conducive to hanging out and talking about films," he says.
"We want film to be looked as an art form, something that is about ideas, and when you are done watching the film, you don't go home; you can sit down and deconstruct what you saw. And that is what makes it fun."
Despite Mr. Frank's mention of Visions' customers coming by car, he hopes that "Metro will cooperate" in renewing its experiment of staying open longer hours on weekends. "It's looking dicey at the moment," he says.
And he pledges that the organization will not sell any of its customers' e-mail addresses.

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