After 17 years of calling the Movies at Midway in Rehoboth Beach home, officials from the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival have announced the 2014 festival will be the last at that location.
“There is time to explore our options and to locate additional venues,” reads an emailed letter sent by the Rehoboth Beach Film Society board of directors to society members April 23. “Members will be updated with progress reports, and suggestions of potential venues are welcomed.”
The news comes on the heels of the festival's most successful year. The society's website notes, the 2013 festival was its most popular ever – filling 19,133 seats and selling out 59 screenings.
The movie theater has also informed the society that for this year's festival, the number of available theaters will be reduced from eight to four.
“This reduction will require the film society to conduct weekend screenings at the nearby Cape Henlopen High School theater in order for the film festival to be programmed with the same scope, quality and available seating as in the past,” said the letter.
Sue Early, society executive director, said they've known about the changes for about a month. Early said the society's 5-year lease to use the movie theaters ended at the conclusion of the 2013 festival and contract negotiations for a new lease began in December. Then about a month ago, movie officials informed the society it would have to move.
According to the letter, theater officials say conflicting contractual obligations relating to its regular film programming limits the number of theaters this year and eliminates use next year.
Tiffany Derrickson, movie theater operations manager, said the use of digital technology in the industry has changed the way the business is run. When a theater gets a movie, it's under contract to show that movie a certain number of times a day for the movie's entire run.
“Now that it's all digital, they know when the movies are playing and when they're not,” Derrickson said. “We have an obligation to show those movies, and for us to continue to book the best movies we need to honor those contracts.”
Derrickson said the theater enjoyed the partnership with the festival while it lasted and wished the society the best of luck in the future. As a gesture of good faith, said Derrickson, the theater has donated the use of its four theaters on Wednesday.
Early said she wanted to make clear how much she appreciated Richard Derrickson, Movies at Midway president, for his support of the festival over the years.
“Yes, we paid rent, but it was affordable. With out the use of that venue, the festival would not have developed into what it's become,” said Early, adding that the festival's annual budget is now slightly more than $250,000.
Carol Everhart, Rehoboth Beach – Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce president, said she was surprised to hear the festival would have to change venues. She said off-season events like the film festival provide local retailers with a much needed boost during a slow time of the year.
According to Early, somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 people attended last year's festival.
Estimates used by the chamber show that translates to an economic impact of $1 million to $1.25 million injected into the local economy. Everhart said that half of the crowd would be considered day visitors; the other half, overnighters. The chamber estimates day visitors spend $100 each and overnighters spend $200 each per day.
“I hope they find a way to keep making it happen,” said Everhart.
Looking into the future, the most significant challenge facing the festival is space. The group has already begun looking at sites for 2015, said Early, but choices are more limited in Sussex County than in major cities, where film festivals are spread throughout town.
There are going to be limitations anywhere the festival goes, but the society wants to maximize the use of the facilities that are used, Early said, adding, that she was confident the festival would last beyond this year.
Making sure the festival lasts, she said, provides the inspiration and motivation to put together an event that people will enjoy.
The letter said ticket sales will now start a day early, Tuesday, Nov. 4, and the screening of films will begin at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 5.
No changes are expected for the society's year-round programming, the letter states.
For more information go to rehobothfilm.com.