Marie Dressler and Lionel Barrymore in “Dinner at Eight”

Patrons and volunteers step up

Article by Bill Hornbostel

“The pandemic really threatened our existence,” says Rick Miller, President and Chair of the Marie Dressler Foundation Board, based in Cobourg. “We were forced to cancel our two major fundraising events, ReaRView Doc Fest, which was scheduled for April 2020, and the Vintage Film Festival, which was scheduled for September 2020. And the museum has remained closed since March 2020, so it’s been closed for almost 10 months. As a result of all of that, we had $0 in earned revenue.”

While the pandemic has hit the non-profit foundation hard, Miller talks about how the foundation has been keeping afloat. “To cover our overhead expenses – we have to pay utilities, insurance, and things like that – and being a charity, we were forced to ask our film patrons to help us out consider a donation in some kind of an amount that they might have given to us if we had the film festival.” Miller adds, “Our patrons and volunteers were very generous in that regard.”

“We also were successful in getting Heritage Canada COVID-19-related grants to help cover some overhead expenses,” continues Miller. “We were able to kind of get through the year and cover our expenses and be in a position to look to 2021 in terms of putting on these events.”

Miller talks about the outlook for putting on the ReaRView Doc Fest and the Vintage Film Festival for 2021. “The prospects for the for the doc fest are poorer, with the restrictions are still in place and the vaccination program not really up and running, we don’t think we can attract sufficient patrons indoors in a constricted space in April.”

“We believe that we’re going to have to put that on hold for another year,” says Miller. “We believe that our patrons really are looking for a safe indoor environment before they’re willing to commit to attending a film festival.”

The outlook for the Vintage Film Festival is brighter for 2021, however. “We’re very hopeful that by September, there will be enough vaccination and enough reduction in the risk that people will feel comfortable coming back into theatres and our film festivals held at the Capitol Theatre.”

“The good thing is, we’ve got a good group of dedicated volunteers who toughed it out in 2020,” Miller says. “The programs we designed for the 2020 Film Festival are able to roll those ahead for 2021.”

“To get people back into the theatre, we have to have a safe environment, we also have to work on the experience that they’re going to get,” says Miller. “They know they can get a movie anytime they want by renting it. So, when they come into the theatre, what are some of the experiences they’re going to have?”

Miller describes the kind of experience that the Vintage Film Festival is trying to capture. “When we show a silent film, we hire a piano player who plays the original score to that film. That pianist is up on the stage playing the score, while people are watching a movie much like you would have seen it in the 1920s in theatres. That’s a visitor experience for a film festival that’s hard to recreate. You can recreate it online by having that person play online, but it’s the whole experience of going into a heritage theatre like the Capitol and having the experience the way an audience would have experienced it.”

While the Marie Dressler Foundation hosts the two film festivals, the core of the foundation is the Marie Dressler Museum, in the actress’ house in Cobourg. “It’s a small space, with lots of interactive displays, so it’s not like everything is two meters apart,” says Miller. “If you’re standing at the wall, looking at a framed photograph from 1918, the next photograph is less than two meters away. It’s a challenge in terms of how you manage that. As soon as that health protocols let us open, we’ll be we’ll be happy to open up to the public.”

The foundation’s board isn’t just looking to stay afloat, though; they have a plan for expansion in the works. “Concurrently, we’re working on the fundraising for the Canadian Women in Film Museum, which is our new project,” says Miller. “What we want to do is we want to take the Marie Dressler Museum and expand it to include two more permanent exhibitions, dedicated rooms for Mary Pickford and one for Norma Shearer, and together with Marie Dressler, those are the only three Canadian-born women to win a Best Actress Award.”

“We want to get that going, we’ve got to design done, we’re starting to do our fundraising,” Miller says. “But fundraising is tough when the virus really puts the demands on the community for health care, mental wellness, social assistance, food banks, etc. So, we continue to work on that and slow this down a bit. But we’re just chipping away at that.”

“I’m hopeful that we can get started building the museum in 2021, because it’ll take us several months to build it and get ready to open,” Miller adds.

The foundation hasn’t been idle in keeping in touch with its fans and patrons during the pandemic, though. “We’ve been active on social media for the museum and Film Festival,” says Miller. “Every week we post some little item about a particular movie, or particular actress or actor. And once a month, we post a mini-review of the movies that we’re going to be showing at the next film festival so that our patrons can keep engaged.”

“We’re very optimistic that we can get things back on track in 2021,” concludes Miller.

For more information about the Marie Dressler Foundation, you may visit their website, https://www.mariedressler.ca/, or follow them on Facebook (link), Instagram (@mariedresslermuseum), or Twitter (@DresslerMuseum). The Marie Dressler Museum is located at 212 King Street West in Cobourg.

Editor’s Note: Marie Dressler (born in 1868 in Cobourg) was famous for her performances. She acted in both silent movies and talkies. She won the 4th Academy Award for Best Actress. .The IMDB has a quick read about her career that is informativehttps://www.imdb.com/name/nm0237597/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

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