Starz Denver Film Fest attendance, revenue up, Starz FilmCenter replacement search goes on

Categories: Film and TV, News

tom botelho portrait.jpg
Tom Botelho.
Denver Film Society executive director Tom Botelho is still recovering from the just-concluded Starz Denver Film Festival; he's got a severe cold. But the word of mouth about the fest makes him feel better, and so do attendance and revenue figures, both of which appear to be up over last year. Still, plenty of questions remain -- particularly about how the event will replace the Starz FilmCenter, which the DFS must leave at month's end.

"We had a ten-year lease that was precipitated by Starz," Botelho says. "They made a $5 million commitment over ten years, and a lot of that money went to pay the lease. But that deal sunsets at the end of November."

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An image from "Like Crazy," which opened the festival.
Botelho admits that "we've been spoiled" by having access to the venue, in the old Tivoli building on the Auraria campus. Because the facility used to be a commercial multiplex, it offered numerous screens in a central location -- a boon that's hardly the norm at film fests across the country, he points out. As a result, movie lovers could spend the day going from screening to screening without ever having to leave the building.

Such convenience no doubt contributed to a 30 percent boost in patron membership, "where people pay $600 to get a lanyard that's pretty much a VIP pass to all the things we offer," Botelho notes. "And people take advantage of that opportunity. Our average patron went to twenty films during the festival, and 50 percent of our tickets were sold before we hit opening night. We hear about people having staycations in Denver and planning time off so they can really enjoy the festival. That's our core audience."

Although numbers are still being crunched to determine overall attendance at this writing, Botelho expects approximately 2 to 4 percent growth over last year, when more than 52,000 folks filled seats. He believes revenue will rise by about 4 percent as well, in part because of strong support at the beautiful new Denver FilmCenter/Colfax facility, use of the nearby L2 Arts and Culture Center, and special events like a Highlands Church screening of Wish Me Away, a documentary about country singer Chely Wright coming out as a lesbian, at which Wright was the featured speaker.

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Chely Wright.
Another factor in the assorted upturns was the sheer number of films screened: 282, the highest total ever. But without the Starz FilmCenter, that figure could dip next year -- and fewer screenings may make it tough to match or exceed attendance and revenue totals next year and in the future.

To prevent such an eventuality, a DFS task force has been formed to line up new screens, with a target of February for an announcement. And while the festival treated this year's event as a goodbye to the Tivoli, Botelho doesn't write off the possibility of making an agreement to use the facility down the line. "I don't really know everything swirling around here about what the venue is going to be utilized for," he allows. "But it works perfectly for the festival, and we'd be happy to be back."

If not, Botelho says "we need at least five screens" to put on the kind of fest he envisions for 2012, and he's confident it'll happen.

"We really try hard in every dimension of the festival to bring the best we can to Denver," he says, "and I think we did that this year. The panels we had were really an upgrade, and we had 198 filmmakers and industry professionals take part. Pretty much 85 percent of the screenings had someone talking about their work, and that's what our audience has come to embrace. That's the kind of thing that makes the festival what it is."

Page down to see the winners of the juried awards at this year's festival.

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