By Dave Hicks
Gordon College News Service
---- — GLOUCESTER — Ever since they donated 200 DVDs to Cape Ann Community Cinema’s lending library, Martin and Michele Del Vecchio have stood behind the cinema’s cause.
So supporting the independent theater this summer when it launched its first major online fundraiser seemed like a no-brainer.
Apparently, the Del Vecchios weren’t the only ones who thought so.
“We received an average of $130 per donor,” said the cinema’s founder and owner, Robert Newton, 44. “I’m still reeling. I just never dreamed it would be this successful.”
The fund-raiser, which began May 23 and ended July 22, is helping pay for upgrades for the screening equipment, upgrades that are necessary, according to CinemaSalem’s Paul Van Ness, 62, and part of a national trend for independent theaters.
“Most major film distributors are now only distributing their movies in a digital format,” says Van Ness, who this past year conducted a similar campaign to upgrade CinemaSalem’s projectors. “Independent theaters that are not equipped to screen to the industry’s standard must upgrade or they lose the capacity to play the movies that most people want to see.”
But these upgrades aren’t cheap. In the case of Cape Ann Community Cinema, the majority of the fundraiser’s $30,000 goal went directly to the new equipment. The cinema raised $54,000, however, and the money continued to flow in by mail.
More than $24,000 over its goal, none of the money will be wasted, Newton said. The cinema is installing a new sound system, a tiered platform to increase seating capacity, and is covering the budget of the cinema’s first feature film, “Over Cape Ann,” a new version of a television movie that has been playing since 1988.
Donors believe these expenditures are valuable to the community.
“The big reason we donated to the fundraiser,” says Martin Del Vecchio, 47, “is because we knew that (the new projector) would let the cinema play new movies that are more inclusive of the community, especially the summer crowd.”
Newton has already done a lot to include the community. Through donations from the Del Vecchios and others, the cinema has established a public DVD rental library. Now with nearly 1,800 titles, visitors may rent films of their choice for a small fee.
In addition to renting movies, Newton rents out space. With only one screening room, which is like a spacious living room with donated couches — guests are welcome to bring their own food or plan special events.
It’s the spaciousness of the cinema that makes it an ideal location for the handful of major donors who earned the opportunity to use the room for their own private movie night. Among these donors was William Taylor, 72, who says he plans to “donate my night to Maritime Gloucester.” That organization will use the night as a chance to educate the community on climate-related issues by screening a documentary film, he said.
Michele Del Vecchio, 45, works as a volunteer librarian at East Gloucester Elementary School, and is struck by how Newton has used his space to support the school.
“He’s hosted about four or five movies for us,” she says. “Once he showed the first ‘Star Wars’ movie and the kids all dressed up. It was a blast.”
A portion of the donations will go toward lighting and sound improvements for the music, theater, and comedy performances that the cinema also regularly hosts.
Newton is quick to talk about these special events as part of its service to the community, such as when the Gloucester-based Honky Tonk Women recently performed before a screening of “20 Feet From Stardom.” Evenings like these reinforce the cinema’s tag line that it is “a film festival that never ends.”
As a patron since its beginnings, Taylor believes he understands why the cinema’s fund-raiser was so well received and is looking forward to the new screenings.
“It brings entertainment, education, and culture to Gloucester,” he says. “You just can’t get the experience anywhere else.”
Dave Hicks is a fellow with the Gordon College News Service.