- Associated Press - Saturday, January 21, 2017

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Occupancy rates were falling when Robert Herrera decided in late 2015 to open a large co-working space in the heart of downtown Wilmington.

And while some thought he was crazy, The Mill is about to begin its third and final stage of renovations at the Nemours Building, where the company he co-founded now controls the entire fourth floor.

Some might be saying the same thing about his decision to take over 221-seat Theatre N, which is now managed by The Mill after being run by the city for 14 years.

In an age when films are available for home consumption quicker and easier than ever, Herrera and The Mill just invested nearly $50,000 in a new digital projector, which allows high-quality films, sometimes as large as one terabyte, to be uploaded directly to an on-site server.

It brings the theater up to Digital Cinema Initiatives standards, allowing for films from many more distributors than ever before via electronic film booker CineConductor. (Theatre N also has a 35mm movie projector for special showings of classic films.)

As some film festivals struggle to survive in the new media landscape and more people are watching films in their homes only months after they were in theaters, Herrera hopes his unorthodox instinct will pay off once again.

“Just like analog is coming back, I believe that people actually want to be in the social setting of a theater. And the followers of these indie films are hardcore,” says Herrera, a Dover-born architect, who now lives in Wilmington. “There’s still a market for this and it is really important that we keep this in the city. It adds diversity.”

The Mill’s early moves at Theatre N, which they lease from the Buccini/Pollin Group, have some movie fans downright giddy.

The theater was re-painted. Malfunctioning lights were replaced. Sound problems were fixed and a few additional speakers were brought in. A spiffy new website was created. Wi-Fi was added. And Bev Zimmerman, who managed the theater from 2002 until Dennis Williams became mayor in 2013 and took office, has returned. She once again curates the theater’s line-up.

For a devoted group of Delaware film fans, including Wilmington’s Berta Kerr, Theatre N is a local portal to arts and culture.

The retired former New York gallery worker had been attending films at Theatre N since it opened in 2002. But when Williams’ staff took over the theater, she soon bailed like many others.

The film selection seemed to target a younger audience with less independent and foreign films, she says. And the sound was so bad at times that Kerr couldn’t even decipher the dialogue.

So when she heard Zimmerman was back managing the theater for The Mill, Kerr was the very first in line when it re-opened in October after a month-long closure for repairs and renovations.

“I had written it off, so I went running down there right away. I saw two or three films that weekend,” says Kerr, who also regularly travels to Philadelphia and New York to see art house films that multiplexes generally ignore.

Theatre N generally screens two films each weekend with a new, more varied set of showtimes on Friday through Sunday. It is run by a four-person board of Herrera, Zimmerman, technical director Bob Weir and marketing and advertising manager Zach Phillips, who is also creative director of The Kitchen, a Wilmington-based commercial film agency.

January’s film selections at Theatre N are a good example of what to expect - critically-acclaimed films from the United States and beyond. This month’s schedule includes everything from concert films (“The Beatles: 8 Days a Week,” ”Mumford & Sons: Live from South Africa”) and documentaries (“They Call Us Monsters,” ”Seasons”) to foreign language films (“Things to Come,” ”In Her Name”) and indies (“Denial”).

The theater will also sometimes host special events, like when they open Sunday, Feb. 26, for a free Academy Awards viewing party, complete with an Oscar pool.

Herrera, 31, adds that indie films that target a younger audience will also be part of the mix, looking to draw from the “hipster” demographic: “I think that’s important, too.”

When the projector isn’t running on Monday through Thursday, the space is used by The Mill for talks, meetings and, as Herrera teases, possibly even gaming nights like “Halo” tournaments. The theater is also available as a rental for outside businesses via The Mill.

The next major change will come when the theater moves to an as-of-yet undetermined membership model for their hardest of hardcore fans. Currently, films cost $9 each with matinees at $5. Tickets are $7 for seniors and students.

The theater still sells beer, such as Dogfish Head, Miller Lite, Guinness, Yuengling and Stella Artois ($3-$6), wine ($4), popcorn ($2-$4) and candy and nuts ($1-$2), along with soda and water. (Coffee-drinkers are allowed to bring their own if they need a warm caffeine fix.)

Only three months into its new run, the biggest hurdle for Theatre N remains winning back the trust of patrons, who have experienced everything from crashed websites and missing movie listings to unscheduled theater closures, including its abrupt (and initially unexplained) shuttering in September ahead of The Mill’s takeover.

Zimmerman, who has earned the trust of many filmgoers thanks to her previous 11-year run with the theater, is helping make the case that a new Theatre N is back and worth a visit.

“To a certain extent, we’re resurrecting. We have people who have been burned over the last four years with bad experiences,” says Zimmerman, who also works as director of administration for The Grand. (The Grand is also part of the new Theatre N partnership, but in a mentorship role alongside The Mill and The Kitchen, both young companies.)

“It’s really going to take friends of theirs, word-of-mouth or some incentive to get them back,” she adds.

So far, Kerr gives the new Theatre N two thumbs up, Siskel & Ebert-style.

“It’s marvelous. It looks a lot more inviting,” says Kerr, also a board member of The Delaware Contemporary in Wilmington. “It’s very limiting, culturally, living in Wilmington if you can’t see independent film. They did a wonderful job.”

___

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide