Hyart Film Festival may come to an end

The Hyart Film Festival may have run its course and is unlikely to return for a 10th year with a recent decision by the Hyart Redevelopment Committee to no longer allow the festival to rent the Hyart Theatre in June, festival director Jason Zeller announced last week.Zeller last week received an email letter from theater manager Wendy Roth dated September 26 stating that he will not be able to rent the Hyart for the festival in May, June, July, November or December. The film festival has been held the third week in June for several years now and completed its ninth season this year.“After some discussion with the board about our finances and movies that do the best for us during specific times of the year, we need to let you know that we won’t be able to book the Film Festival in June any longer,” read the unsigned letter, which board president Mike Steenbakkers said was penned by Roth following a decision made by the board.“This decision is based on our monthly and yearly attendance numbers vs. available films,” the letter continued. “We found that, due to the timing of movies generally released in those months, if we give up a weekend during these times, we’re losing the chance to open Disney films and the bigger blockbusters (or it prevents us from booking them two or three weeks sooner). In either case, the longer we have to wait for the bigger releases, the more revenue we are losing on those types of films.”The letter stated that the Hyart board has not raised the booking price for the film festival in at least eight years and would work with Zeller on the price if the festival were to be moved to another time.“I was totally blindsided by this,” Zeller said Friday. “After nine years of working with them, at least they could have let me know what they were thinking or invite me to a meeting. It’s all about money.”Zeller said he is charged $1,800 to rent the theater for the festival, but noted, “They feel they can make more money with a Disney movie that happens to be coming out in May or June. I would think they would have reached out to me instead of (writing) “this is our decision. Deal with it.”“It’s something we’ve been talking about,” Steenbakkers said in an interview Tuesday. “Movie attendance is down across the country due to Redbox, Amazon Prime, Netflix and other services. People tend to stay home and stream videos as opposed to going to the theater. Numbers are down, ours not so much, but attendance is down while expenses are up. We looked at who is renting the theater and when they’re renting it and asked, ‘Are we losing or making money by renting the theater?’”Steenbakkers said the board believed the Hyart was losing out on revenue by holding the film festival in June, noting that a big weekend can net the theater $3,000.“We kept the rent as low as possible to aid him (Zeller) and help the success of the film festival, but more and more of the summer blockbusters are coming out at the end of May and the first of June. The board decided to try to capitalize on the summer blockbusters by not renting out the theater on those weekends.”Steenbakkers said the board did discuss discounting the rent further for the film festival on Mustang Days weekend and allowing it to be held at that time, noting that Mustang Days weekend might be a slow weekend for typical movies, but it might be better for the film festival with lots of visitors in town for the big weekend, “people who might never have experienced a film festival.”Steenbakkers said the letter wasn’t meant as a final decision to end the festival but was rather the beginning of a discussion.“We wanted to give him as much notice as possible,” he said. “Our intention in sending the letter was not to put a stop to it but to find a workable solutionlike April or August, September, October. It certainly wasn’t our intent to out an end to it.”But Zeller said the decision by the Hyart is likely the final straw for the festival. He said that, while the festival was originally held in August, holding it then uses up too much of his summer as he prepares for it.“I’m done,” he said. “I’ve tried to pass it on to the Big Horn Arts Council, but the main people have moved. I tried to keep it going in other ways. It’s just too much work. I’d like to see my kids grow up. I wasn’t married when I started the festival. My life was completely different then.“I had time to do it myself. I don’t have time to do it by myself any more, and no one seems to want to do it. It’s like one step forward and 45 steps backwards. I was planning to do it again (next year), but this is the final nail in the coffin.”Zeller said he had emailed the Hyart requesting the theater for next year’s festival, which he had planned to be an all-comedy festival including the best comedies from the festival’s previous nine years.Zeller said he is grateful to the people who have supported the festival “every single year” over the years and the sponsoring businesses that have been consistent supporters monetarily year after year including Bairco, the Red Apple, Queen Bee Candy, the Lovell Chronicle, Big Horn County Newspapers, North Big Horn Hospital and Lovell, Inc.“Without their support, I couldn’t have done it,” he said, adding that he also appreciates the Lovell lodging tax board for its funding support.The Hyart Film Festival was born at a Lovell Inc. community brainstorming meeting in the fall of 2009 and hit the screen at the Hyart for the first time in August of 2010.

By David Peck