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Dobie Dreams

Can a new Dobie Theater thrive in Austin's entertainment scene?

marquee from exterior of Dobie Theater in 2010
Dobie closed its doors in 2010. Is it be poised for new life?  Photo courtesy of Dobie Theatre/Facebook
interior of Dobie Theater screening room with Egyptian mural
A themed room of Dobie Theater.  Photo courtesy of Great Big Signs Inc.
marquee from exterior of Dobie Theater in 2010
interior of Dobie Theater screening room with Egyptian mural
Author photo Ryan Lakich

The fate of an old Austin business isn't always doom and gloom. The most recent case in point is the tantalizing prospect of a shuttered local movie theater getting a second chance. No, we’re not talking about the grand reopening of the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. We're talking about a theater that has been close to the hearts of film buffs since the 1980s.

Recently, a renewed effort to reopen the Dobie Theater located in the Dobie Center on Guadalupe was announced. The four-screen movie theater geared toward independent and foreign films closed in 2010 when Landmark Theatres (the chain that operated the theater) didn't renew its lease. A New York-based real estate investment firm is now working on a plan to reopen Dobie and put its box office back in business.

But can Dobie thrive in Austin's new entertainment scene? 

 Instead of mimicking the sleek and modern look of newer spaces, Dobie needs to embrace that old independent spirit. 

In today's environment, Dobie will have to contend with the likes of the posh Violet Crown Cinema in the Second Street District, plus a host of Alamo Drafthouses. Even the Austin Film Society has moved on to other venues, such as the Marchesa or the AFS Screening Room. 

With a location on UT's campus, there is a huge potential customer base for Dobie. And with UT’s Department of Radio-Television-Film bigger than ever, it could easily foster a fervent foundation of aspiring filmmakers. However, to survive, Dobie will need to offer more than just a convenient location — especially since the majority of its 50,000-student customer base is just fine with streaming movies at home. 

In the past few years, chains like the Drafthouse and Violet Crown have successfully filled seats with offerings like finer food and unique events that transcend the typical film screening experience. But what Dobie has that they don't is a rich local history that can't be eclipsed by fancy fare or state-of-the-art projectors. After all, this is where Richard Linklater’s Slacker premiered before becoming a national cult hit. Quentin Tarantino could be spotted at Dobie during his QT Film Festivals, and it was a popular venue for the Austin Film Festival for years. 

Sure, the old theater will require updated sound systems and comfortable seats (just don’t even think about giving us a Dobie without its signature themed screening rooms). But in its new incarnation, the beloved theater must stay true to its arthouse leanings or risk becoming another Galaxy Highland with smaller screens.

Instead of mimicking the sleek and modern look of newer spaces, Dobie needs to embrace that old independent spirit. The Alamo Drafthouse is a local company that's become a national brand, leaving Dobie with the opportunity to cement itself as a purely Austin brand, one that can lead the charge in revitalizing The Drag.

With that goal in mind, Dobie can once again be the home of culturally savvy students — and locals, leaving a bigger footprint on the Austin entertainment scene than its tiny, four-screen presence would suggest. 

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