Organizer blames Empire rent increase for loss of film series
Bad news for movie fans. The Art and Democracy Film Series, which featured free monthly movies at Empire Arts Center followed by philosophical discussions, will end after Nov. 24 because the series can't afford the Empire's rent increase. The Emp...
Bad news for movie fans.
The Art and Democracy Film Series, which featured free monthly movies at Empire Arts Center followed by philosophical discussions, will end after Nov. 24 because the series can't afford the Empire's rent increase.
The Empire has said it will more than double the rent, from $200 a month to $450 a month, for the film series, said Jack Weinstein, professor of philosophy at UND and founder the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life, the film series sponsor.
"We had an agreement with them that if we committed to a year's worth of films in advance, that we would get a certain rate," Weinstein said in a news release. "They do not want to renew this agreement for next year. We can't afford the new rent, and honestly, I think the cost is unreasonable."
Jon Handy, president of the Empire Arts Center board of directors, said the film series got a break the first year, and next year would be charged the same rate any other tenant would pay.
"To help him get the film series started, there was a deal cut with him," Handy said. "We feel that it is very necessary to treat all of our tenants fairly. We appreciate having the film series here, and honestly, we're going to miss it. But I struggle that it appears this is our fault, and I don't see how it is."
Weinstein said he had approached Fire Hall Theatre as an alternative site to show the movies, but the board
didn't approve the request. He said he'd like to keep the movies downtown because he wants the public to regard them as a community event, and he wants the cost to remain free.
"My position is that we are certainly open to opportunities and new locations if they arise, but it does not look very promising," he said.
There are three movies left in the series this year and they will be shown as planned: George A. Romero's 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead" on Wednesday; the Vietnam-era movie "Full Metal Jacket" (1987) on Nov. 3; and the 1941 Preston Sturges film "Sullivan's Travels" on Nov. 24.
The film series, with rent, movie rental, advertising, posters and other expenses, costs a little less than $1,000 a month, Weinstein said. North Valley Arts Council has been paying part of the cost of renting the Empire, but it can't afford to increase its donation, he said.
When the series began, Weinstein said, sometimes there would be just 10 or 15 people in the audience. Now, the series is getting more than 80 people per film, and sometimes as many as 150. For a showing of "Casablanca," with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, there were 272.
The IPPL also has been experimenting with broadcasting the post-film discussions online, so that people all over the world could watch and chat with the audience at the Empire. Weinstein said less than a third of the audience was UND students. About a third were professionals, campus affiliated and not, and about one-third were older people and retirees.
Weinstein said the film series was just what he wanted the IPPL to foster: a civil discussion among all kinds of people that touched on lots of ideas, including some of the hot button issues of the day.
"I'm tremendously disappointed," he said. "The film series was really fun and very important to me."
Weinstein said he was "baffled" because with the Empire being vacant 250 to 300 nights a year, "they should be lowering their prices rather than raising them, and getting as much use out of the theater as possible." But Weinstein said Handy said the Empire was booked 250 to 270 nights a year, between events, performances and rehearsals.
Movies in the Art and Democracy Film series this year have included "Modern Times" (1936) with Charlie Chaplin; "On The Waterfront" (1954); "Saturday Night Fever" (1977); and "American Splendor" (2003).
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