Many an LGBTQ visitor to Rehoboth Beach and nearby towns on the Eastern Shore — not to mention residents — might have overlooked a hidden treasure in the region: the Cinema Art Theater, just off the Coastal Highway heading to the beach.
Of course, the city’s sandy shores mark the prime destination, but for off-beach entertainment that does not include mini-golf or outlet shopping, the two-screen Cinema Art makes a fine year-round alternative — especially when they’re hosting events like the Rehoboth Beach Pride Film Festival, running Friday through Sunday, June 9 to 11.
Screening yet-to-be-released LGBTQ features like Passages, the “sexy and sad” romantic drama from writer-director Ira Sachs, and Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovani Project, the festival aims to celebrate the community that’s been there for decades.
Other highlights of this year’s festival include It’s Only Life After All, a newly-minted documentary about the Indigo Girls, the Argentinian drama Horseplay, and Nelly & Nadine, a poignant documentary about two women who, after their release from Ravensbrück concentration camp, forged a life of companionship and love.
Cinema Art executive director Helen Chamberlin, a native Washingtonian who spent her summers as a youth in Rehoboth, has watched the area’s community evolve over the years. “I remember it was very prevalent that there was an LGBT — or LGB — community here in Rehoboth back in the mid-seventies,” she recalls.
“When I looked at the original mini film festival that they did for this community — when I got here, it was called ‘LGBTQ Cine-brations’ — I thought to myself, ‘You know, Pride has become such a huge phenomenon globally…let’s get in the game here.”
Getting in the game meant re-branding the festival, scheduling it during Pride Month, maintaining partnerships with organizations like festival co-presenter CAMP Rehoboth, and going after some of the most buzzed-about queer-themed titles to premiere this year at Sundance and Berlin.
“When you rebrand something, you have to grow your audience,” says Chamberlin, who stepped into her role at the Cinema Art and the Rehoboth Beach Film Society a year ago. “And that’s in addition to the fact that we’re trying to grow our audience, in general, to the Cinema Art Theater. We’ve spent quite a bit of money to attract some of the top films coming out of Sundance.”
The theater has also recently invested in upgrades to projection and other equipment, vitally necessary since so much in film distribution and exhibition has changed since the Cinema Art launched in 2016.
“The board realized that it’s time to make a real investment, not only because we’re still here, but also because the technology has improved and films are coming at you in all types of formats now. It’s not just the old hard drive comes to you and you put it into the deck,” says Chamberlin.
She also notes that fundraising to offset these investments has gotten a boost from the publicity surrounding the town’s most famous vacation homeowners, the President and Jill Biden.
The Bidens’ presence in raising the town’s profile has been helpful, according to Chamberlin, who hopes the First Couple might drop by soon — if not for the Pride Film Fest, then for Cinema Art’s major fall event, the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival, celebrating its 25th year in November. “We’re hoping to have them physically involved with us for the fall festival,” she says.
As Chamberlin observes, being physically present together in the cinema is one of the great things about the Pride Film Festival, or any trip to the movies.
“Going to the cinema is a very one-way experience,” she says. “You sit in an audience and you watch stuff coming at you. So one of the things that’s a key differentiator when you’re in cinema, that’s different from sitting at home or watching Netflix, is the community aspect of it. So you have to create opportunities for community.”
The Rehoboth Beach Pride Film Festival runs Friday thru Sunday, June 9 to 11, at Cinema Art Theater, 17701 Dartmouth Drive, Dartmouth Plaza, Lewes, De. Individual tickets for screenings are $12. Visit www.rehobothfilm.com.
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