The Denver Art Museum's film series, which has provided area film buffs with a wonderful opportunity to see classic cinema on the big screen for over a decade, is dead. DAM film curator Tom Delapa, who took on the film programming role in 1998 and joined the curatorial staff in 2004, confirms that his position has also been eliminated as part of widespread budget cuts. He expresses his frustration over this turn of events in simple terms. "It's very, very sad," he says.
During Delapa's time as programmer, DAM-sponsored films screened in three different venues: the Acoma Center, the Starz FilmCenter and the new Sharp Auditorium, located in the museum's Hamilton Building. Back in the Acoma days, Delapa couldn't always get pristine prints, yet the events regularly attracted good-size crowds. He remembers selling out the venue for a series entitled "The Mean Streets of Film Noir." Attendance was often strong at Starz, too, especially for a batch of flicks directed by Alfred Hitchcock. But for some reason, folks didn't flock to Sharp, despite it being a spectacular facility, in Delapa's estimation.
"It almost assuredly is the best-equipped auditorium in Denver for showing classic films," he says, "because the theater is equipped to show both 35 and 16 millimeter prints. And it absolutely has the best projectors in Denver." But "Hooray For Hollywood," the first series at Sharp, proved to be a disappointing draw, for reasons Delapa can't quite pinpoint. "We had brand new prints of Wizard of Oz, On the Waterfront, Casablanca and Buster Keaton's The General," he notes. "But the turnout wasn't nearly what we expected."
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A core group of 150-200 cineastes went to just about everything DAM offered, but expanding beyond that total proved difficult -- and the audiences skewed to the older end of the demographic. Delapa thinks the rise of DVDs, Netflix, wall-sized HD televisions and home theaters may partly explain this situation. But understanding that doesn't make things any less frustrating for someone who cherishes the ritual of sitting in the dark with a bunch of strangers getting lost in a celluloid world.
"The last film we showed was Stranger Than Paradise, which is a very hip movie from the '80s, and we had 110 people show up," Delapa recalls. "Twenty years ago in New York, people were lined up around the block to see that movie. But the younger generation doesn't seem to be interested in those kinds of movies -- at least to pay money to watch them on the big screen." As a result, Sharp, the auditorium with the finest gear in town, may well be collecting dust for the foreseeable future.
At this point, Delapa is looking for curatorial and teaching work outside Denver. But even as he moves on, he laments that "there will no longer be a film series at the Denver Art Museum." -- Michael Roberts