Pickford Film Center
More Pickford is not a new idea. In 2019, we achieved our sixth consecutive surplus year, selling over 92,000 tickets between three screens in two locations. It became clear that Bellingham was hungry for more Pickford, so we began dreaming of ways to make that a reality.
Then came the pandemic, sending shockwaves through our dreams of expansion. In 2020, we made the decision to close our one-screen cinema, The Limelight, a rented space that could not be operated safely during the pandemic. Now we’re down to two screens, having to sacrifice programs that were dependent on that third screen.
Building the Pickford on Grand, something made possible by a recent dip in the commercial real estate market, is an effort to regain and exceed the breadth of our programming and audiences.
Programming movies is not a breakfast buffet of titles, all available when we want them. It is much more complicated than that.
Film distributors, especially the bigger ones, dictate the terms that the Pickford must meet in order to show their films. They set the opening date. They set the minimum length of the run. They set the minimum number of shows we must have in a day, often requiring a “clean” run, meaning no other films can play on the same screen. If we can’t meet the terms, we don’t get the film.
With only two screens, our capacity limits the extent we can fulfill our mission and thrive as an organization.
Adding three additional screens expands the number of titles we can show and the number of series, events, and festivals we can produce. We can hang on to popular titles, take risks on lesser-known directors, serve the local filmmaking community and still have room to run the prestige arthouse titles that require a clean screen.
Another reality of the movie biz is that most shows don’t sell out, or even come close, and that’s all part of the plan. The Pickford is open 365 days and nights a year, with at least six shows a day. Sometimes, you may only see a handful of other folks in the theater. But with multiple screenings of the same film each day, every day of the week, each one doesn’t have to be a packed house to earn its keep.
At the end of the day, sometimes we fill the seats, sometimes we don’t. Bringing in the films Whatcom wants to see is our mission, whether it’s for 5 or 500 people. It might seem counterintuitive, but more screens, even when all the seats aren’t filled, will be better for the Pickford community.
Flexibility and capacity are the keys to sustainability. Opening the Pickford on Grand will provide both of those qualities, setting the Pickford up to do even more to serve the community on into the future.
Give a donation today and help us usher in the next chapter for Whatcom county’s only non-profit community cinema!