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Over the following decades, Gregory and Bonnie, who still handles year-round programming at Cinema Paradiso, built the theater into Broward's only single-screen art house (Miami-Dade County, by contrast, has four of them), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that relies on membership dues, government grants, and donations from generous philanthropists. He sticks to showing independent movies and revivals of classics.
The venue is a cultural and community treasure. In October 2005, days after the destruction of Hurricane Wilma, Cinema Paradiso was one of the few places in town that had functioning electricity, putting on a Halloween event for area children and offering hot showers, cold beer, and free movies. "It was a much-needed escape from the drone of generators and the hot, humid nights that seemed to go on for three weeks," von Hausch recalls.
But Cinema Paradiso has its challenges. The lack of weekday parking has forced von Hausch to limit showtimes to nights and weekends. And although it still screens top-of-the-line, 35mm prints from time to time, the cinema's digital-projection apparatus is not up to current industry standards; it would take $85,000 that von Hausch doesn't have to upgrade the system. Both of these factors have resulted in distributors' declining to deliver certain high-profile titles to Cinema Paradiso.
But the atmosphere and perks — the theater was one of the first cinemas in the region to offer beer, wine, and occasionally upscale in-theater dining — have so far ensured its survival in a recessed economy. The relatively cheap admission cost is a draw. At $10 per film, ticket prices for FLIFF and Cinema Paradiso titles have increased just $3 for nonmembers in the 24 years von Hausch has been involved (members pay $6).
Conventional wisdom might call for austerity in times like these, when box-office numbers crater and other nonprofits shutter. But von Hausch's film footprint is only expanding. Last year, he started "FLIFF on Location," bringing some of the festival's best work for screenings at sites in North Bay Village, St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, and Grand Bahama Island. The project continues this year. And he's currently in the legal process of launching intimate movie theaters in downtown Hollywood (in a former pottery shop downtown) and north Broward.
For the month ahead, von Hausch is focused on FLIFF. Highlights of this year's festival include a live question-and-answer session with classic Hollywood sex symbol Carroll Baker, who will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award on November 4, and appearances by Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, The Usual Suspects, Do the Right Thing) and Bailee Madison (Wizards of Waverly Place, Just Go With It). The film lineup includes the South Florida premieres of two early Oscar favorites: David O. Russell's The Silver Linings Playbook (November 10), a dark comedy with Bradley Cooper as a man trying to piece his life back together after his release from a mental institution; and The Sessions (November 3), a quirky sleeper about faith, iron lungs, and sex therapy starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macy.
"We're always clawing tooth and nail just to survive... We always seem to be in that position. Right now is no different," von Hausch says. "They idea of taking on a capital campaign and opening up another venue could be distasteful for some, who might say, 'Get your own house in order before you start nation-building.' My mindset is just the opposite: Let's expand. Let's take the risk. With no risk, there's no reward."
For the entire FLIFF 2012 schedule, visit fliff.com.
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