Madstone’s Formula: More Than Movies

The other night I took in “Crimson Gold,” an interesting, well-regarded Iranian film by internationally acclaimed director Jafar Panahi. It was part of the 10-day, 20-films-from-13-countries Tampa International Film Festival at Madstone Theater in Old Hyde Park Village. The theater was packed for the 9 p.m. feature, and many of those assembled stayed on for the follow-up Q&A conducted by festival founder Rob Tregenza of the University of Tampa.

The 2-year-old festival is a good draw, but the near full house was still a novel experience for those who remember the patron-challenged AMC version that closed shop last year on the same site. This is definitely not the Old Hyde Park Village movie house we used to stay away from in droves.

“We’ve been pleased with attendance since we opened (Nov. 26, 2003),” says General Manager Margaret Murray. “And it’s been steadily increasing from week to week.”

What has Murray “amazed,” however, are the number of members — 1,100. Of Madstone’s 9-theater chain, Tampa is second only to Atlanta, which has 1,200.

The explanation, says Murray, is in the feedback.

“Time and again, we’re told by people purchasing memberships that they are doing so because they ‘want us here,'” Murray says. “We said we will bring in more foreign and independent films, and that we are committed to being part of this community. And people have embraced that.”

What Madstone is doing filmwise, points out Murray, is “trying to get a really good mix.” That means balancing big-budget mainstream films like “Alamo” with foreign sleepers such as “Tycoon: A New Russian” and an eclectic indie-flix mix.

Madstone’s community outreach, including its hosting of the Hillsborough Community College Ybor Festival of the Moving Image, transcends festivals. Every other Wednesday at 10 a.m., for example, Madstone hosts “BYOBaby,” for parents, caregivers and activity-requiring toddlers. There are art shows and receptions; a monthly writers’ group gathering; and wine tastings. A small filmmaker holds production-crew meetings at Madstone, and Tragenza teaches a world cinema class every Wednesday that is hardly limited to UT students. And it helps to have a video game-free lobby re-configured for small discussion groups of adults.

“I think people have seen that we’re making good on our community commitment,” says Murray. “And I think they can see that we look at screenings as a kind of activism. Helping to better understand the world around us.”

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