After a month in limbo, Berkeley's Oaks Theatre has found a new operator, reported the Berkeley Daily Planet today. As the Express reported in February, previous operator Metropolitan Theatres Corporation decided not to renew its five-year lease when it expired on February 28. The building sat quiet throughout the month of March, but according to property owner John Gordon of Gordon Commercial, a new operator is now poised to assume control of the theater — and it's not who many expected. Instead of American and European indie flicks and the occasional mainstream movie, the Oaks will likely now likely be showing foreign films out of Asia, Mexico, and beyond.
Depending on how you look at it, this comes either as a surprise departure from tradition or a logical change of course. The theater was previously, albeit unsuccessfully, given to the sort of art-house fare that thrives in Berkeley. Grand Lake Theater operator Allan Michaan ran the theater from 1994 to 2005, then turned it over to Metropolitan. Both faced stiff competition from the Landmark Albany theater on the other end of Solano Ave., and ultimately failed.
The new company, which has not officially been named, is said to be under the management of five Indian men who own a theater in Milpitas. According to the Daily Planet, the only theater that fits this description is Serra Theatres, a two-screen, "Multi Ethnic Cinema Center" that shows predominately Hindi films alongside offerings in other regional Indian dialects. If the operator's plan is to the do the same with the Oaks and convert it into an East Bay counterpart to the Serra, the East Bay will have its second Hindi film hub. The first, NAZ Cinemas, has successfully tapped into Fremont's sizable Southeast Asian population. Perhaps Berkeley will prove equally fertile.