Screen time

M.V. Film Center brings a hybrid experience to big (and small) screens.

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The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center saw attendance go up slightly in March, with an uptick of people going to the Film Center when Island elders began getting vaccinated with the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“Being a nonprofit, we have that flexibility,” said Film Center executive director Richard Paradise. The Film Center is a movie theater attached to the nonprofit Martha’s Vineyard Film Society.

Paradise is planning to hold the fifth annual Spectrum Film Festival for the LGBTQ community and the Martha’s Vineyard Environmental Film Festival in May, with the FilMusic Festival in June and Doc Week in August.

According to mvfilmsociety.com, a maximum of 50 movie patrons in groups of one to four individuals are allowed in the theater to ensure six feet of social distancing, masks required, and staff getting infrared thermometer checks.

No concessions are sold in the Film Center, to prevent people from pulling their masks down and potentially exposing other people to COVID-19. The Film Center’s staff wipe down every chair with disinfectant towels after each film and don’t switch the yellow shirts over the seats to abide by social distancing guidelines.

According to Paradise, March and April are traditionally the two slowest months for movie theaters on the Island due to winter weather and school breaks. A turnout of 20 to 30 people is considered great for the Film Center this time of year. On March 26, around 10 moviegoers went to see the 4 pm screening of “Minari.”

“Most people assumed we were closed, and [the Film Center] has been doing everything it can to get the word out,” assistant director Michael Nason said during a phone interview with The Times.

The Film Center closed in March 2020, and reopened in July. Initially upon reopening, the Film Center had a mandate of 25 people or less, but Paradise said that most theaters couldn’t operate under those state restrictions and turn a profit.

Paradise tried using a ticketing system with vimeo.com for the Spectrum Film Festival last May, and remembers it as too laborious and not well-integrated with their ticketing service.

“We will continue to do the hybrid models. The big question is, Will we have the audience capacity to justify having special guests?” Paradise said.

Unfortunately, no special guests were invited last year to attend in person. Paradise compensated by conducting 50-plus Zoom interviews with directors, actors, and producers of films, and recorded them, making them available for M.V. Film Society members and customers online on the Film Center’s streaming platform and Vimeo platform.

“The online screenings and [in-person] theater dual-pronged approach since July has helped keep us afloat,” Nason said.

The Film Center has implemented a hybrid model, with small in-person showings and online streaming through eventive.org. Paradise discovered Eventive through industry contacts on a blog post, creating “The Film Center at Home” as the M.V. Film Society’s online streaming service.

Eventive began in 2018 as a ticketing service for film festivals, but when the pandemic hit, the organization pivoted to offering online streaming for virtual theaters.

Paradise detailed the Film Center, financially, is in good shape, from the government grant Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to the membership donations and nonmember donations. Paradise has managed to keep his three-person staff employed.

The earned revenue from tickets, rentals, advertising, and concessions was down 76 percent for the Film Center in 2020 compared with 2019, over 10 months of lost revenue. In January and February 2020, revenue was up 7 percent, Paradise said during a phone interview with The Times.

“Our members and donors like us curating the movies for them,” Paradise said. “That this is a movie they are going to enjoy and seek out those [hidden] gems.”

According to Paradise, the Film Center has more than 2,000 members, but lost 800 members last year who did not renew their memberships, most likely because they didn’t return to the Island in 2020.

Before the pandemic, the Film Center had a robust system for advertisement, ticket sales, concessions, sponsorships, and memberships that made up more than 80 percent of their revenue, according to mvfilmsociety.com.

“The Film Center has doubled as a community gathering spot,” Nason said.

Paradise estimates it might take till 2022 to get back to normal numbers for the Film Center. He said he hopes more people will get vaccinated from April to June and come back to the Film Center, which will keep offering online streaming into members’ homes at discounted prices.

“Going to the movies is embedded in people’s DNA,” Paradise said. “The bottom line is people like going out.”

 

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