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Hippodrome Cinema struggles to break even

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Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 12:45 am

Despite receiving thousands of dollars from the Florida Department of State, the Hippodrome State Theatre is still struggling to break even on international films being aired through its Cinema program.

For 31 years, the theater, located at 25 SE Second Place, has shown a variety of international and domestic films.

Cinema director Shirley Lasseter said the theater needs about 20 attendees per show to break even.

“For us to stay strong financially, we need more like 30 to 40 people to show up per show,” she said.

At capacity, the Hippodrome Cinema can seat 95 people, Lasseter said. In recent screenings of the “The Loneliest Planet” and “The Other Son,” it averaged between 17 and 20 people per showing.

“It’s getting harder and harder to actually get our audience to leave their homes and come downtown,” she said.

Lasseter attributes the rise of high-definition television, online streaming websites like Netflix and movie rental kiosks like Redbox to the declining number of attendees at the theater’s international film screenings.

This year, the theater requested about $250,000 from the Florida Department of State, according to state financial records online. The state gave the theater more than half of what it requested — about $141,000.

Rocky Draud, managing director for the Hippodrome, said the grant money is used for all of the theater’s programs, which includes a hearing assistance system in the Mainstage and the Cinema, as well as upgrading the building’s alarm system.

Nicole Daenzer, director of finance, said funds are distributed depending on financial need of theater’s programs.

Daenzer said the low attendee numbers at the Cinema were a “marketing issue.” She said the theater is now turning to social media to promote its screenings.

Meanwhile, Lasseter said the theater is working to promote more community engagement during the movie screenings. One way is through post-show discussions among moviegoers.

“What we’re trying to do is engage people more on that aspect and underscore the importance of sharing the experience and hearing people laugh or gasp or cry when you’re watching a film together,” she said.

For now, Daenzer said she doesn’t think the theater intends to close the Cinema.

Scott Nygren, professor with the Film and Media Studies Program at UF, said he believes most Americans are unaware of international films.

Films produced outside the United States often have stories that people would benefit from knowing, he said. For this reason, Nygren encourages people to watch more foreign movies.

“If you are aware of international films, encourage people to look for the unusual films,” he said. “It’s a big, wonderful world out there.”

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