From the October 2018 issue
Since its inception in 1998, the Rehoboth Beach Film Society has grown from a handful of movie buffs watching independent films in local restaurants to a thriving cultural resource with more than 2,300 members who support a number of cinema-centric events throughout the year.
The largest of these, the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival, is held each November and has grown from a three-day event to one spanning nearly two weeks. This year it will be held Nov. 1-11 and feature 35 to 40 indie films, plus shorts. The festival, which used to be held at The Movies at Midway, now presents films at a variety of locations. This year those sites will be: The Cinema Art Theater and Cape Henlopen High School, both near Lewes, and the Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware building on Route 9 west of Lewes.
As the event has evolved over the years, so too have the types of films selected, notes Sue Early, executive director of the RBFS. “The taste of our customers has become more refined, so the quality of the films needs to reflect that,” she says.
That growing sophistication has transformed the festival into a much-anticipated event that draws not only locals but also movie buffs from out of town who plan their visit to Rehoboth around the screenings. Ellen Feinberg, a longtime society member who now serves on the board, says the RBFS’s various events throughout the year “expose people to the film society who aren’t local, who are coming here for vacation. Once they’ve been exposed and have a positive experience, they’re more likely to come back.”
It was the 2016 opening of its own venue, the Cinema Art Theater, that enabled the RBFS to host screenings of independent films throughout the year. The CAT, as it’s called, is a cozy space that seats 104. It was financed through a $700,000 capital campaign, including a $200,000 grant from the Longwood Foundation, along with donations from RBFS members, local businesses and other local residents.
Recent films shown there include “RBG,” a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; “Three Identical Strangers,” which recounts a true story about long-separated triplets; and “Whitney,” an intimate portrait of the singer Whitney Houston.
The film society typically does not show films that are in mainstream release except for encore performances, as was the case with “Moonlight,” which won an Oscar for Best Picture in 2017. That movie was initially shown at Midway but was screened at the CAT following the Academy Awards.
“We are getting film-festival-quality films here on a weekly basis,” notes Betty Grunder, who with her husband attends other film festivals across the country and teaches a popular class on independent film through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Lewes.
“There’s different kinds of films for different demographics,” adds her husband, Gary Grunder.
The RBFS just completed a second capital campaign to raise funds for another screening space at the CAT and to support equipment purchases and technology upgrades. Collectively, $100,000 was donated as a challenge grant by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Arena’s restaurant and two individuals, John Newton and Mowry Spencer. Donations from more than 300 members and several local businesses helped the society raise the matching $100,000.
With the development of the 36-seat mini-theater, the society hopes to be able to offer additional special programming for specific audiences. “For example, we’d like to offer sensory-positive screening for people with autism,” Early explains. “We’re also talking with PFLAG [Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays] about showing films here with discussions afterward. Sometimes a film can spark a conversation that a meeting might not. We always feel there’s room for further development.”
More information about the RBFS, next month’s festival and other programming is available at rehobothfilm.com.