December 6, 2001

Cornell Cinema Counting on S.A. Funding

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The Student Assembly is meeting today to finalize next year’s student activities fee, a move that could seal the fate of the struggling Cornell Cinema. Funding meetings have been taking place throughout the semester, aiming to provide the most services to undergraduates at a reasonable fee, currently proposed at $124 per student.

The viability of Cornell Cinema, which charges $4 admission to students, is at stake in the funding process. The cinema currently receives $7 per student from the Student Assembly Finance Commission (SAFC) and has requested $9 per student in order to combat increasing costs and a current deficit. As of now, the SAFC has approved a $1 per student increase in funding, to be complemented by a $1 ticket price hike.

“The general consensus of the committee is that normal economic readjustment will dictate that, in time, [the Cornell Cinema must] raise prices,” said Michael Moschella ’02, Student Assembly (S.A.) vice president of finance in an earlier Sun article.

Ari Epstein ’04, a CALS representative on the S.A., is motioning to rescind this decision in favor of the $9 per student allocation.

“A variety of circumstances worked together to lead to a unfair bias against the Cinema. The [allocation] system was largely fair, but at the same time a lot of important facts were overlooked. Unlike any other group, there is a long list of reasons why this current decision is bad for the undergraduate community,” Epstein said.

His motion explores and refutes the various misconceptions he feels the SAFC has about the Cinema. He will also attempt to show at today’s meeting that increasing SAFC funding will cost less to students than a $1 ticket price hike.

“If ticket prices were increased by $1, we’d be paying a net $40,000, an extra dollar for each ticket sold. By contrast, if we add a dollar [per student] to the SAF, then we pay an additional net $13,600, for a saving of $26,400 to the student body,” Epstein said.

For each film the cinema shows, 40 percent of ticket sales is paid to the film distributor as film rental. Thus, 40 percent of the proposed ticket hike would be used to pay for rental fees. Funds received from the SAFC are not subjected to this surcharge, as funding is not classified under ticket sales.

Last year’s low attendance figure drastically affected the Cornell Cinema’s finances.

“Attendance dropped precipitously — 8,000 in one year — due to a bad pool of Hollywood films,” said Cornell Cinema Director Mary Fessenden.

Fessenden fears that a price increase will lead to further drops in attendance.

“There is a large psychological difference between $4 and $5. Attendance will drop, especially when we’re competing with DVD and video rentals. We can no longer offer the best deal in town,” Fessenden said.

An increase in ticket prices could cause mayhem at the box offices. The Graduate Student Assembly has approved the requested $9 per student allocation, so ticket prices will remain at $4 for graduate students.

“Graduates and undergraduates have the same student ID card. The Cornell Cinema will have to look up graduate students on a gigantic list. It will be quite embarrassing to explain why undergraduates will have to pay more,” Epstein said.

Fessenden is determined to secure the requested funding from the S.A.

“With the proposed allocation, we will have the funds guaranteed at the beginning of the year to plan and take on non-commercial films, without having to increase ticket prices. Students will be further encouraged to take a chance [in viewing] independent films,” Fessenden said.

“I love Cornell Cinema,” said Sam Fieldman ’03, president of Cornell’s Digital Video Club. “It’s the only place in Ithaca to see low budget indie-esque films.”

The Cornell Cinema is also an avenue for students to display their own creative film work.

“Cornell Cinema is likely sponsoring one of [Digital Video Club’s] films in their spring film festival,” Fieldman noted.

“The Cornell Cinema is attended widely by the undergraduate population. Even if frequented by the same students, the figures indicate that the Cinema draws a quarter of the student population, which is rather impressive for a Cornell student organization,” Fessenden said.

Fessenden will be present at the SAFC meeting today, with high hopes for the future of Cornell Cinema.

Archived article by Krishna Raghavan