Walter Chaw Leaves Alamo Drafthouse During Expansion to Westminster

Denver Alamo Drafthouse Creative Manager Steve Bessette and Vice President of Operations Walter Chaw.EXPAND
Denver Alamo Drafthouse Creative Manager Steve Bessette and Vice President of Operations Walter Chaw.
Kyle Harris
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Walter Chaw, Alamo Drafthouse's vice president of operations, quietly left his job heading up the Denver-area expansion of the indie movie theater chain. 

Chaw, who declined to comment on the reasons for his departure, was promoted from general manager to vice president of operations a year and a half ago. He led the Alamo staff in the metro area and was instrumental in launching the Sloan's Lake location.

He left the company "on mutual terms," says Alexandra Griesmer, the Denver-area branches' director of marketing. "I think he was at a point where he worked a lot. It was a big job, and I know he wanted to spend more time with his family, and there were other opportunities that he wanted to pursue."

At the time of his exit, Chaw was overseeing plans to open a new outpost in Westminster — a project on track to break ground soon, and designed as a centerpiece for the suburb's redevelopment of its downtown.

Chaw's departure coincides with the corporate unification of the Alamo theaters. As a nationwide brand, the Austin-based chain has juggled two identities: a franchise blockbuster boutique movie theater company and a community-based art-house cinema, which competes with such local indie theaters as the Denver Film Society's Sie FilmCenter and supports smaller film organizations like the DocuWest Film Festival and experimental film series Collective Misnomer.

Chaw, a longtime Denverite, was committed to integrating the Alamo brand into the rapidly gentrifying West Colfax community where the Sloan's Lake theater opened; he and his team also used the venue as a platform to showcase local musicians, artists and brewers.

Competition has been stiff in the Front Range independent movie market. The biggest chain, Landmark Theatres, has dominated the industry with exclusive screening deals on major films, prompting an antitrust lawsuit led by art-house cinema groups, including the Denver Film Society, that is still in the courts.

Alamo, on the other hand, has secured its spot in the national market by making a trip to the theaters more than just a chance to see a screening; the company provides a full-service menu, bar and waitstaff. It has rigid policies regarding noise, cell-phone use and other distractions, rules that appeal to cinephiles. The Sloan's Lake branch also offers comedy nights, concerts, competitions and other niche programming that makes the venue a real destination — and a good reason to not just stream films at home.

As Alamo has grown, the company has begun to consolidate its efforts across franchises. "The bigger change at all Alamos: A majority of them are corporate now, so we’re a unified company," explains Griesmer. As for the current staffers who have earned Alamo Drafthouse Sloan's Lake a reputation for being a hotbed of community-based arts and culture activity, "we’re all still going to be here and carry on our business as usual," she says.

Creative director Steve Bessette will stay in his role, as will Griesmer. There will be no substantial changes in programming, Griesmer adds, and the future of Chaw's position has yet to be decided. (The national Alamo Drafthouse office declined to comment.)

Before arriving at Alamo, Chaw had secured a name for himself writing film criticism for Film Freak Central, where he has continued to publish in recent years. His most recent review of I'm Sorry to Bother You came out on July 7.

"We’ve all enjoyed working with Walter, and we're sad to see him go," says Griesmer. "We’re still going to be a strong team — but we were always a strong team for the last four years that I’ve been here."

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