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Strand Cinema: Eclectic mix of films gradually builds an audience

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

No popcorn or cola. Just fascinating, unique films selected specifically for movie enthusiasts. Films that can not be seen at big screen movie houses. Even the price is right.

So where is everybody?

Soon to celebrate their first anniversary, organizers of the Strand Cinema feel they have done all they can to attract viewers to Georgetown’s Strand Theater for their weekend series of independent, classic and foreign films.

“The number of people who attend average about 25 to 30 a performance,” said Karen Yaniga, the Strand Cinema founder.

Yet, no one on the Strand Cinema board is discouraged. On the contrary.

“Gradually our audiences are increasing,” Yaniga said. “And as long as we run in the black, we’ll keep this going. We’re not looking to make money. The people who do come are loving it. If we can increase the number of people in the audiences and continue to have our bottom line above the red mark and have something very special for the people in this area, I can’t see why this can’t be even a greater success.”

Supporters bankrolled the art house cinema. More than 122 patrons donated $100 each during a membership drive last fall. Those funds provided the start-up money and the purchase of a commercial Blue-ray digital DVD player for showing films during the times when the theater was unused by the Swamp Fox Players for live performances. The house was dark 36 out of 52 weekends a year.

More than 50 films – four a weekend – have been presented by the Strand Cinema since it was launched last December. The ambitious agenda is orchestrated entirely by volunteers. Only the projectionist is paid.

A team of informed movie buffs selects the films for presentation. Themes vary to embrace drama, comedy and mystery, and include foreign film festival winners plus good old American classics like the upcoming showing of “The Misfits” starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable.

Richard Dimentstein, co-chair of the film selection committee, said he looks for films with artistic value.

“But we survey our audience and try to please the members. We have a lot of requests for classic movies. People can catch these things on television but they want to see them on the big screen,” he said.

Selecting a film is almost like buying a car, Dimentstein said, noting that the average cost to rent a film is $250. “With our small town, shoestring budget, we have to negotiate with the distributor,” he said.

Organizers continue testing a variety of films and will continue to analyze and survey attendees to see what types of films they would like to see, said Yaniga. “But at this point, it doesn’t seem like any single category is preferable,” she said.

One big surprise this season, according to Yaniga, was the showing of “The Turtles.” Expected to draw families with children, the film actually drew a gaggle of environmentalists concerned about the protection of the loggerhead sea turtle. Consequently, special-interest films are now on the schedule for future showings.

Local businesses profit from film events, according to Elizabeth Haring, who co-chairs the cinema board. The upcoming showing of “Bottle Shock,” a true story dealing with the wines of California in competition with the wines of France, includes a wine tasting hosted by The Rice Paddy restaurant.

“One of our goals is to generate business for Georgetown and help revitalize Front Street,” Haring said.

Who attends the films? Movie lovers, said Haring.

“A person who likes to see movies , who likes stories, who likes the artistic nature of the medium – film is an art medium. Going to the movies is a habit,” she said.

Sue Cross adores film and attended after spying the landmark theater’s marquee. “They were showing “The Way,” which I’d always wanted to see. We had dinner across the street and then went to see the show. It was so easy,” she said.

Dan Brady attends every film. “I know nothing about them when I go. I like to be surprised,” he said.

Yet, most moviegoers are selective in their choice of films.

A complete schedule and description of upcoming films, including its rating, is available online at strandcinema.org. In addition, an updated schedule is e-mailed monthly, then weekly, to 900 potential moviegoers.

Patrons have perks. Their annual $100 membership includes discounted tickets at $5 each, instead of the general admission price of $7, plus special discounts at restaurants and nearby shops.

The second annual membership drive is about to commence with added benefits, Yaniga said.

One noteworthy challenge for organizers was the discovery that a number of people in the community need some sort of hearing amplification when attending theater or films. That mission was accomplished through an anonymous donor.

“We now have equipment for the hearing impaired,” Yaniga said. “Now those just coming to the subtitled pictures, can come to all of them. We try to be inclusive.”

Haring believes the local art house has nowhere to go but up. It’s an extraordinary opportunity for local movie fans, she said.

“Don’t miss out. Surely there is a movie story that tweaks your interest. For only $5, you can have a night out on the town watching what I call, ‘a movie with legs.’ ”

Now playing: Find information about films at strandcinema.org. [E-Mail Article To a Friend]

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