By Nathan Brown
Published: 2:00 AM - 05/29/13
MIDDLETOWN — A film festival featuring more than 140 movies with the potential to draw thousands of people to the area is kicking off Friday, and this year will be the test of whether Middletown can become its permanent home.
For its first seven years, the Hoboken International Film Festival was in Hoboken and in other northern New Jersey towns. The festival's head, New Jersey filmmaker Ken Del Vecchio, fell in love with the 80-year-old, art deco-style Paramount Theatre after filming the horror movie "Captured Hearts" there in January, and reached a deal with the city about a month later to have this year's festival here from Friday through June 6.
Middletown Mayor Joe DeStefano cast the festival as a test of the area's support for the film industry, something New York has come to emphasize more during Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration, with tax credits targeted to attracting film production.
"If we hope to get a piece of the pie, not only for Middletown but other parts of this region, people who live here must demonstrate they're willing to support the arts," he said. "And I believe they will."
Big events, big draws
The festival's opening night screenings and gala and closing night awards ceremony are expected to be big draws, with a number of celebrities attending, and on the days in between, they'll be showing movies on two screens for 12 hours a day.
"I would deem it a success if we were able to get 10,000 people through the doors for the week," DeStefano said.
One major difference this year, said Del Vecchio, is that the festival is being hosted farther from New York City than before. He said he chose Middletown for three reasons: support from the area's elected officials; the people in the area, who he thought would be excited about having a film festival of this size; and the Paramount Theatre itself, which, he said, the city and Orange County have shown a commitment to restoring.
"I felt a large commitment to the arts in this community in Middletown, and that made ... my decision a lot easier," he said.
He said he doesn't think he'll lose much star power by moving to Middletown; he hopes to make it the festival's permanent home.
"It's still close enough (to New York City) where I'm really not going to lose anything, and it's shown by who's coming this year already," he said. Celebrity attendees this year will include comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who is hosting the Gala Awards Ceremony, Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts, who is accepting a lifetime achievement award and Robert Loggia, an actor who has been in a number of well-known movies and TV shows, including "Scarface," "The Sopranos" and "An Officer and a Gentleman."
Business owners see benefits
Downtown business owners hope that the festival, by bringing more people downtown, will mean an uptick in business for them. Jaime Palacios, the owner of the hot dog shop Holy Dog at 44 W. Main St., said he'll probably stay open later during the festival. He's friends with the theater's operator, Nelson Page, and even has a spicy sausage and pepper sandwich named after him.
"Nelson's a good customer," he said.
Evan Dooley, owner of Olde World Wine and Spirits, 2 North St., said he might have an extra wine tasting the Saturday of the festival, in addition to his usual Friday tastings.
Something Sweet Cafe, 17 North St. has partnered with Middletown's downtown Business Improvement District to organize a "Sweet Summer Sounds" concert series, with live music in the small park next to the cafe, which will launch Friday to coincide with the festival. Dave Madden, who co-owns the cafe with his wife, Anna, said they wanted to give festival-goers something to do when they're not at movies, and to showcase the small park, which has been renovated with money raised from the Run 4 Downtown, an annual race in August the Maddens also organize.
"Hopefully we'll convince (the festivalgoers) how great our town is, and make them want to come back here next year and the year after," Madden said.
Mayor: Show our 'best side'
The city paid organizers $15,000 for the festival, and Orange County put in another $5,000; the city also agreed to help promote the festival. DeStefano said there will be extra police and fire police to help with traffic, parking and security. "The goal is for us to show our best side, and I'm sure we will," he said.
DeStefano said he doesn't expect parking or crowd problems; the Paramount has handled crowds of 1,000 people before, such as in August, when the movie "Collar" premiered there, a night that also saw good business for many of the bars and restaurants downtown.
"Having a parking problem would be something that would be great!" he said.