Brattle Theatre Needs Your Help!

I try not to spam this site or the newsletter much, but this announcement from the Brattle Film Foundation seemed important enough to merit it. If you are in the position to help out this cause, please visit the Brattle’s online donation form.

The Brattle Film Foundation (BFF), the nonprofit organization that programs and operates the Harvard Square’s landmark cinema, the Brattle Theatre, announced the most important fundraising effort in its 52-year history. The PRESERVE THE BRATTLE LEGACY CAMPAIGN is a two-year fundraising effort that is necessary to sustain repertory film programming at the Brattle. The Phase One goal is to raise $400,000 by the end of 2005; the Phase Two goal is to raise another $100,000 by the end of 2006. If BFF is not successful at meeting the goals set by Phase One of the campaign, BFF will be forced to cease operations at the Brattle Theatre, effectively ending the 52-year legacy of repertory film programming at the Brattle. The Brattle Theatre has outlasted most arthouse cinemas in the country. While landmarks like St. Mark’s and Bleeker Street in New York closed their doors long ago, the Brattle has survived. Of the Brattle’s current situation, Creative Director Ned Hinkle had this to say: “Repertory film programming at the Brattle simply cannot survive without significant community support. Our current challenges can only be overcome with the involvement of community members who want to keep the tradition of film programming alive at the Brattle Theatre.”

What are those challenges? The Brattle has experienced the same drop in attendance that has been plaguing cinemas over the past several years. Operating costs – including film rental and facilities management – have increased by 30%. Government, corporate, and foundation funding for cultural organizations have diminished. Furthermore, BFF and the Brattle are feeling the pinch of the changes in Harvard Square’s make-up. As Harvard mainstays like Wordsworth Bookstore, Brine’s and HMV close their doors, the Brattle’s surroundings have lost much of their draw as a vibrant, independent destination. Empty storefronts lead to a decrease in foot traffic, which leads to a decrease in ticket sales.

It is with these challenges in mind that BFF launches its PRESERVE THE BRATTLE LEGACY CAMPAIGN. If Cambridge’s only independent cinema is to remain open, this campaign must be successful. Just as a ballet company or a museum must be subsidized by donations, so must repertory film programming at the Brattle. By definition, ticket sales are an inconsistent and unreliable source of income. Every other independent repertory cinema in the country relies heavily on public and donation support to solidify their budgets. BFF board president Mike Bowes says, “We cannot sustain and further our repertory programming tradition, or stay in business for 52 more years, without major local investment.”

Board member Siobhan O’Riordan continues, “We are running more than just a movie theater, we are operating a community landmark, a historical legacy, and a cornerstone of American film history. The Brattle Theatre’s strong reputation for artistic quality, nationally-recognized film programming and enthusiastic audiences, are vital, but without deeper community commitment and greater financial support, it is not enough.”

Repertory film programming at the Brattle Theatre holds personal meaning for many members of the community. Ned Hinkle is hopeful that the Brattle community will come together in response to the crisis. “If ticket sales alone can’t support us then we hope the larger community of Brattle patrons and film lovers will. And honestly,” says Hinkle, “that only seems appropriate since we are a non-profit organization presenting films for the benefit of the community.”

The PRESERVE THE BRATTLE LEGACY CAMPAIGN’s goal, in addition to financially stabilizing the BFF’s programs, is also to increase community engagement in Cambridge’s nationally renowned Brattle Theatre and secure the Foundation’s efforts to maintain the quality and consistency of creative film programming at the theater. Phase One will get BFF out of debt, fund an expanded marketing budget, and support the development of more community programs. Phase Two will move BFF to the next level as an organization, enabling the Foundation to work towards goals created by the strategic plan that BFF is currently developing.

There will be many opportunities for the community to be involved in the campaign. There will be a movie watch-a-thon, a special members-only drive, house parties hosted by Brattle supporters, as well as continued solicitations for direct donations from local businesses, foundations, and individuals. BFF is organizing a gala benefit event with a world-renowned filmmaker and a series of musical event fundraisers. Executive Director Ivy Moylan explains: “It is our hope that through raising awareness of the community asset that the Brattle Theatre has become year after year and screening after screening, we will be able to reach, if not exceed, our goals for the year.”

The BFF is committed to carefully curated programming, driven by presenting films based on quality, diversity and cultural value not by garnering high-ticket sales. Nationally, virtually every similarly programmed, independent cinema is in crisis, and those that are not rely heavily on community support to balance their budgets or are part of a larger nonprofit with access to deep pockets, like a university or museum. “The only way that our peers throughout the country are making it is through significant community support,” says Hinkle.

The BFF believes that viewing film is a community as well as personal experience. Many of the directors that the Brattle Theatre is famous for introducing to greater Boston never wished for their films to be screened on television or on a computer. Their expectation was that their films would be seen in an auditorium on a large screen with an audience of strangers surrounded by the sounds and feel of a traditional movie theatre. It is exactly this type of movie-going experience that the Foundation is working to retain. The Brattle Theatre’s legacy of repertory film programming will not continue without significant and immediate community support.

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