Friday, March 7, was opening day for the theater, which screened the new, kid-friendly Disney musical film “Frozen” followed by “Philomena.” The theater is operating as the MHCA, a name established when the 501 (c)(3) organization used to put on shows at Memorial Hall in Wilmington. According to MHCA chair Dan Facilla, the group has no interest in changing its 17-year-old name, but may change the “doing business as” name of the building in the future.
Movies are shown Wednesday through Sunday night at 7 and on Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm.
The MHCA’s first step in reopening the theater was the purchase of a state of the art Sony projector with 4,000 pixel capabilities. Facilla sets up agreements with film studios to show their movies, which are sent to him in the form of encryption keys on a hard drive, specific to the theater’s projector. “It’s tuned to the industry specifications of each film,” said Facilla. “It isn’t merely a home projector we could have bought for $12,000 to $15,000.”
Facilla said the new machine could also receive satellite feeds, which opens up more possibilities of what MHCA can show. The projector cost $63,701, and is being paid for with help from donors, tying it into the bigger picture of what MHCA envisions for the future of the building.
The group purchased the 4,000-square-foot cinema in November 2012. Since then, upgrades have been made to the heating system and bathrooms, and a new popcorn machine purchased for the concession stand. Cup holders were added to each chair in the 179-seat screening room, while the floors were cleaned and now are just in need of a good waxing. Facilla not only sees the building as a home for the MHCA, but also as a new arts center for the community. “We’re not just a movie theater, we’re an arts center,” said Facilla. “Our grand goal is converting this triplex movie house into an arts center with a 23-and-a-half-foot-wide and 20-foot-deep stage, just as we had in our prior existence at Memorial Hall in Wilmington.”
The MHCA plans to redesign the interior of the building to build a stage. The two screening rooms on the left side of the building will become a seating area flattened with poured concrete, facing eastward toward the stage which will be positioned where the current screening room on the right of the lobby is. A balcony will also be constructed along with a new room for the projector, a sound booth, and a green room for performers.
An anonymous donor recently pledged $350,000 toward the project, which Facilla estimates will cost around $700,000. The donation came with the caveat that the cost of the projector be paid off by the community, residents, and visitors, and a link has been created on Memhall.org to facilitate this. Those who donate $300 or more will have their name displayed in the lobby on a plaque, and one month in, Facillla said donations have begun to come in.
If the $350,000 donation is received the MHCA hopes to raise the remaining funds from a “Legacy Fund,” as well as grants that the group intends to apply for. Facilla is confident the project will proceed as planned. “I’m thinking that based upon this community and our group’s history, our patrons and our supporters will not let this leave their grasp,” said Facilla.
For now, Facilla is just happy to have the cinema back up and running. “This community has suffered in a sense that it does not have its own cinema anymore,” said Facilla. “This was one of the more central theaters and it was sorely missed as a part of the local economic vitality. We plan to keep it open, and when we do the renovations, cinema will be added to the concerts, plays, and art shows that we used to do.
“Everyone who is a part of MHCA works on a volunteer basis, and I’m ecstatic that this is up and running again.”
Since being purchased, the building has been open only once, in September, for the Independent Television and Film Festival, a moment Facilla described as the MHCA’s first community donation in their new home. “ITV is a 501(c)(3) and so are we,” said Facilla, “and this is how we operate. The most important thing is to be sure we’re giving back to this community and that’s how we decided to start.”