- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Organizers are hopeful the upcoming Alhambra Theatre Film Festival will breathe new life into the theater and neighborhood.

The Alhambra Theatre board of directors even changed its mission statement to reflect the restoration’s impact on the revitalization of downtown. It also reiterated its dedication to becoming a core element of Evansville’s art scene.

The film festival, April 9-12 at Tropicana Casino, is the most recent fundraising venture to help make that mission a reality. It harkens to the theater’s original purpose of revitalizing the historic venue and establishing a wider visibility for Evansville.

Rachael Goldman, president of the Alhambra board, told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/1CRA4eI ) that completing the restoration of the theater and creating a film festival in the process helps promote theater’s vision for the future.

“It has always been our plan to use the theater as home for an arts-based organization,” she said. “The goal of our organization (Alhambra Theatre Inc.) is to see that the historic theater is occupied as soon as possible.”

The former film house served as a beacon for the Haynie’s Corner neighborhood and downtown’s economic prosperity and eventually spiraled downward into disrepair, leading to its closure in 1956. But with the recent upswing in city and community support for historic building preservation, successful exterior restorations of the theater itself and fresh initiatives bringing more businesses to Haynie’s Corner - switching on the Alhambra’s marquee lights and regaining its position at the core of the city - are within sight.

To be up to code and fully functional by 2017, the board took a page from its history and turned to film to help open the theater doors once more. Creating a film festival seemed like the perfect way to pay homage to the theater’s history and make sure its future could still be rooted in the arts.

Film festivals are nothing new to the Tri-State area. Evansville is housed at the crossroads of several of the nation’s largest film festivals, including the Louisville International Film Festival, Cinema St. Louis and International Film Festival, and a few local and regional film festivals that take place in Evansville each year. It was the hope of Malcolm Cook, the festival’s director, that the Alhambra Film Festival would eventually extend its reach nationally and even internationally and receive award-winning film submissions from the festival circuit - a goal met much sooner than anticipated.

Alhambra surpassed all of the committee’s goals and expectations of a first-year festival in general. With more than 200 submissions, both domestic and international, the newbie festival already has caused some head turns among film festival organizers and independent filmmakers.

But quality has been at the root of the festival’s planning from the beginning. Troy Davis, outreach manager for the festival, said he decided early on to aim high and hounded several film festival favorites and award contenders. Taking that initiative paid off in a big way for the festival that garnered several festival circuit winners and international films including 2015 Sundance animated short winner “World of Tomorrow” and BAFTA nominee “The Karman Line.”

“Calling people and networking became a second full-time job for me,” he said. “It was a real grass-roots-style effort to get the attention we needed.”

Maintaining a focus on Evansville and what an audience here would want to view was an integral part of the selection process. Patrick Higgs, artistic director, and a group of volunteers screened all of the films several times before making the selections.

With the selections made, surpassing their initial goal almost four times over, Higgs said it’s now about fitting the separate parts of the jigsaw puzzle together before the festival.

“In these final planning stages, it really hit home how important the restoration of the Alhambra is to this festival,” he said. “Even though it’s not operational now, it’s still our platform, and that’s what it’ll eventually be again for this community.”

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com


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