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Red River’s director talks about theater’s growth, future plans

In her year and half at the helm of Red River Theatres, Shelly Hudson has led the independent film theater through a digital transformation, a renewed focus on membership and the addition of new programs.

Since its opening in 2007, the theater has screened hundreds of movies, created partnerships with local organizations and continued to grow its base of supporters. A $735,000 operating budget in 2008 grew to $1.14 million in 2012, and membership now reaches 1,600. As a nonprofit, Red River is funded through membership fees, ticket sales and partnerships. Looking forward, board members have formed a strategic planning committee to talk about what’s next in the nonprofit’s future to ensure it’s around to bring independent films to Concord for years to come.

Hudson talked with the Monitor about Red River’s recent projects and its future.

What’s new this year?

We are now 100 percent digitally compliant. We raised $175,000 in about six months and that was to support the conversion of our two main halls. We actually went through the conversion in March and so have been working with equipment and all those challenges that come along with new equipment. The staff learned the whole industry on the 35-millimeter film, and they have done a great job transitioning to this new platform.

How about aside from that conversion?

There’s also a lot happening within programming and membership. We actually came up with a season calendar this year that allowed

us to build three new film discussion series: Thinking for the Future, Directors and Their Craft and what we hope will be our upcoming series, Science on Screen. We’ve also been doing a lot of community engagement events; we call them Movie Magic events. We’ve always done those to some degree. We showed Star Wars, we did a Monty Python night and we’ve also added in sing-alongs. Programming-wise, we’ve really added some diversity.

Why do you offer memberships?

Being a nonprofit, a lot of people walk into our space, and it’s a beautiful space, and they forget that it’s a nonprofit that is struggling like all other nonprofits, specifically arts nonprofits. We’re working hard at getting people to understand why it’s important to support the arts. Red River’s always had strong partnerships in the community; we have worked hard in the past year and a half to re-establish or redefine a lot of those.

How many members do you have in total?

In 2012, we had (about) 1,200 and currently we have around 1,600. That piece of our organization has always been kind of this growth area on its own – I think again it comes back to people being aware. . . . We select every year from May until the beginning of July to focus on different areas of membership, just reminding people the value of why they’re a member, and then obviously to entice people to join. . . . We gained 77 new members (this year) during that time period.

How do you raise awareness?

It’s amazing to me when I sit or when I present in front of the theater and I ask how many people have been to the theater before. Most people are return people but so few are members. So that for us is a focus, and this year we made an effort to build again a yearlong campaign versus just focusing more of our energy in the (May through July) campaign areas.

What’s in the future?

We’ve started a strategic planning which will, when completed, hopefully give some future to the thought of Red River as an organization. Obviously, I would like for Red River to get to a place where it is financially sustainable. Being a nonprofit and an art house cinema has very unique challenges, some of them we have no control over. We’re looking at the pieces we do have control over and how to continue their growth, (such as) membership, programming and rentals.

What are some of those things you can’t control?

The digital upgrade is a perfect example. Our business would have gone out of business if we had not done that upgrade. The fact that we have to send over 50 percent of the ticket proceeds for first-run films back to Hollywood is a challenge, but we also pay rights and royalties on all other programming here at the theater in some form.

The financial climate for nonprofits is something we have very little control over. The funding and the grants that are available are drying up; we find that there are less grants, at least for our particular medium of art.

What are the most successful things you’ve done this year?

The digital conversion – the fact that we did that and worked through it and we’re continuing to be here. It’s nice to have that off the plate. I think seeing new faces at the theater through some of the programming is another huge accomplishment. The summer for us has been great in that we saw three New Hampshire premieres happen at the theater and they didn’t show anywhere else in the state, and they were AMC’s new TV series, which is really cool, and then Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing and currently Fruitvale Station.

What’s your long-term goal?

To present film and the discussion of film in a way that enlightens, engages and entertains our film community. Not just the Concord area, but for as far away as they want to come. We really are, for our community, a hub of culture, and I think we also add that to the state. We’re very excited to be part of this industry – the indie film industry.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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