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AFS Cinema, hoping to reopen this summer, announces crowdfunding campaign

Eric Webb
Austin 360

Austin Film Society on Thursday announced a crowdfunding campaign to reopen their AFS Cinema this summer.

The campaign has a $150,000 goal and will run through June 17. According to a news release, the Still Water Foundation will match the first $50,000 in donations.

The funds raised will help pay for hiring and training staff; installing coronavirus safety measures like HEPA air filters; maintaining and upgrading projection equipment; and ensuring "community inclusion and accessibility through outreach and partnerships," according to the cinema.

“We are ready to welcome back the entire community to take part in the rich and ever-expanding film culture that Austin is known for,” Rebecca Campbell, CEO of Austin Film Society, said in a statement.

AFS Cinema has been closed since last spring. Now, the Austin Film Society is organizing a crowdfunding campaign to help reopen it.

The North Austin arthouse cinema at at 6259 Middle Fiskville Road has been closed since March 17, 2020; the operators announced a temporary closure at the time. When Gov. Greg Abbott allowed theaters to reopen as the pandemic continued to rage, Campbell expressed dismay and said the theater would look toward scientific and industry guidance in deciding when to reopen.

“We are shocked at the decision of the governor to declare it safe to open movie theaters, even at 25% capacity,” Campbell said in April 2020. “The AFS Cinema will remain closed until further notice as we do our part to prevent the spread of this deadly virus.”

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Things have changed in a year, though.

"With vaccines becoming readily and widely available for those who want it, including our staff," Campbell told the Statesman on Tuesday, "and with over a year's worth of information and research about how to reopen and operate safely, including patrons' increasing familiarity with other businesses practicing industry-standard health and safety guidelines — we felt that this summer was the right time to plan for the reopening of the AFS Cinema." 

In the wake of the pandemic closure, Austin Film Society on March 25, 2020, announced furloughs and staff reductions, including layoffs of all hourly workers at the cinema. According to an independent audit of the nonprofit's finances for the last fiscal year (which is available on the film society's website), Austin Film Society received $613,500 in loans last year from the Small Business Administration as part of coronavirus relief programs. The cinema alone accrued $1,319,309 in expenses last year, of which $220,358 was attributed to rent, according to the same audit. 

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In addition to the cinema, the society's programs include financial support to Texas filmmakers, running Austin Studios and putting on the annual Texas Film Awards. Austin Film Society is partially funded by the Texas Commission on the Arts and the City of Austin Economic Development Department/Cultural Arts Division.

Even while the physical cinema was closed, Austin Film Society continued to bring entertainment to the city's film lovers, including through their virtual cinema; socially distant outdoor and drive-in screenings; and a partnership that brought Sundance Film Festival programming to Pioneer Farms this year.

For more information on AFS Cinema's crowdfunding campaign, go to austinfilm.org/nextpictureshow.