WEST DOVER -- The MHCA, formerly Memorial Hall Center for the Arts, Inc., purchased the Mountain Park Cinema last August and though its doors were opened for screenings at the Independent Television and Film Festival, they were closed again until now.
"It's not just a movie theater," said MHCA Board Chairman Dan Facilla. "It's an arts center."
On March 7, the space will be opened to the public and movies will begin showing. The kid-friendly "Frozen" and Oscar nominated "Philomena" are the first two films scheduled for the facility.
So far, $332,000 has been invested into the building. About $10,000 was spent on heating, ventilation and air conditioning units. Some funding was used to renovate the women's bathroom, where the pipes had a tendency to freeze.
"We're sure hoping people come and do enjoy it and patronize it," said Facilla.
The MHCA is a non-profit volunteer organization. Although it is no longer involved in putting on shows at Memorial Hall in Wilmington, the organization continues to use the acronym which will be changed in the future. Based on legal agreements, the name has stuck.
Before the theater could reopen, even for ITVFest, Facilla had to order a digital projector, which required delivery and installation. It was purchased in September before the festival and arrived just in time. The projector is manufactured by Sony and it is about the same height as the cinema's previous machine. There are six to eight bulbs inside the new projector, while its predecessor only had one.
"The whole idea with this machine is, that in theory, it should never be down. That's the whole concept of having the redundancy of the bulbs," said Facilla.
He told the Reformer that the projector also uses hard drives instead of film, which the industry is moving away from.
"It's cheaper and easier to ship the film on a hard drive. And obviously, the perfection is there," added Facilla.
Since ITVFest, Facilla has been busy setting up agreements with studios to show films.
According to MemHall.org, the vision "is to transform the present three-theatre cinema complex into an arts center, complete with a stage, seating for 250 to 274 on a flat floor with risers and raked balcony and a performer support area with storage. The renovation will result in approximately 4,000 square feet of flat space, including the stage for exhibits, dance, etc. and MHCA will once again be able to present the plays, concerts and artistic exhibits, as it has in the past, and now with the addition of cinema."
In the main screening room, the first two rows will need to be taken out. The stage will likely be as large as the Memorial Hall stage and a new screen would be installed. These items were included in preliminary plans approved by an engineer, which was part of the organization's purchasing plan. By attaching four piers inside the walls to the steel above, Facilla said the building will be even stronger than before.
A potential donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Facilla he would advance the organization half of the money it will cost to complete the conversion to an arts center if there is enough interest. He will donate approximately $350,000 as long as the $60,000 projector is paid for in one year.
"The person has asked to see that the community really wants this," said Facilla. "We opened a projector fund and we are taking donations to see if we can meet it. If that's met, then we can take the design from a simple design mockup to fruition, which means a lot of architectural work needs to be done."
He told the Reformer that those plans would be expensive and that process may start in about a half a year after the projector is paid off. Then a "legacy fund" would be created to essentially turn the arts center into a legacy for the community.
As far as renovation is concerned, work must be completed by September for the ITVFest. This may require closing the theater from May to August.
"We're committed as the rest of the (Deerfield) Valley is to bringing the ITVFest here for the next four years," said Facilla.
When asked about whether the facility would be competing with Memorial Hall, he recalled when the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro first opened.
"I walked up to the people forming the board and said, ‘Welcome to the arts community.' And that's the way arts organizations are," said Facilla. "We're hoping people will still come here and see and enjoy what we do. One thing that I can guarantee is that the whole idea behind the arts center is to put on as professional performance in the best space at the least expensive price we can."
When it opens, the cinema will be closed on Monday and Tuesday each week. Every other night, there should be at least one showing and depending upon demand, there may be some matinees on the weekends.
Facilla said there will be times when a movie will be held for three to four weeks. This typically happens with the newer releases. But, he hopes to have to only do that in a month such as May, where there is not as much business in town.
"I'll keep it open as a service to the community. But in the winter, you need to have that turnover otherwise it gets stale and before you know it, no one's coming to the movies."
To donate to the projector fund, visit MemHall.org or send a check to MHCA, P.O. Box 1720, Wilmington, VT, 05363.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.