James Mejia, Denver Movie’s new president, doesn’t want a background in films

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What is going to the Denver Movie Pageant appear to be within the fall? What is going to its mum or dad firm appear to be after the pandemic? And, within the meantime, how will the state’s largest nonprofit movie establishment survive?
Solutions to those questions are nonetheless materializing, however Denver Movie has been in a position to clearly goal a few them because it introduced its new president and CEO on July 28, following a year-long, nationwide search.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but it surely’s nice to be right here,” mentioned James Mejia, who began his job on Aug. 10. “I’ve been attending to know everybody and wanting to grasp all of it as rapidly as potential. However there are plenty of shifting components, and plenty of good individuals engaged on them.”
Mejia ran for Denver mayor in 2011 and completed a mere 1,491 votes behind our now three-term Mayor Michael Hancock (or third out of 10 candidates). Like Janice Sinden, Hancock’s former chief of employees who was chosen to steer the Denver Middle for the Performing Arts, Mejia has cast worthwhile private and non-private connections that might be an asset to any nonprofit cultural group.
At totally different factors, Denver Mayors John Hickenlooper and Wellington Webb picked Mejia to function the founding president and CEO of the nationally acknowledged Denver Preschool Program, in addition to challenge supervisor for the $425 million bond challenge to construct the Denver Justice Middle, Denver Movie officers mentioned.
Mejia has no film expertise. He’s not a movie snob, and even an obvious movie buff, primarily based on a cellphone interview final week with The Denver Submit. However he could also be precisely what Denver Movie wants proper now.
With its dwelling theater, East Colfax Avenue’s Sie FilmCenter, closed to the general public and its hourly employees laid off, Denver Movie has been working lean since mid-March. Its programmers responded to the pandemic by exploring digital streaming titles, which advanced into Denver Movie’s personal digital, revenue-generating platform.
The group’s leaders — together with interim CEO Britta Erickson, Denver Movie Fest’s longtime director — have begun determining what a movie pageant may (and may) appear to be throughout a worldwide well being disaster. The added complication is that some studios solely lend out their movies in the event that they’re screened in a theatrical setting. The 42-year-old pageant lately has drawn tens of hundreds of holiday makers, performing as an important fundraiser for its producers at Denver Movie. However nobody goes to theaters proper now.
Denver Movie earlier this month introduced its Movie on the Rocks Drive-In collection, which replaces its annual, wildly common Movie on the Rocks schedule at Purple Rocks Amphitheatre. (Screenings now happen in a car parking zone on a large LED display.) Then an thought swam into view: What if a few of the Denver Movie Pageant, even opening evening, occurred at Purple Rocks in a drive-in format?
RELATED: Movie on the Rocks, drive-in fashion this yr, kicks off its 2020 season at Purple Rocks
All of those choices had been made harder by Denver Movie’s lack of a everlasting chief, following the shock resignation of CEO and president Andrew Rodgers final yr. Even shared, it was a burden on remaining employees.
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Now that 53-year-old Mejia has arrived, a few of that may be lifted.
Q: What was your first official obligation?
A: Saying the Movie on the Rocks Drive-In collection, which was fairly spectacular. Persons are so relieved to have leisure at Purple Rocks, judging by ticket gross sales, and it’s actually resounding with our viewers. It’s nice enjoyable and demonstration of what this group is able to.
Q: What are you able to deliver to Denver Movie that nobody else can?
A: I feel I full the image. They have already got world-class programming, and my strengths can complement that. I can present construction and instruments to the individuals engaged on the creative aspect. I can present fundraising and the power to collaborate with various communities, and hopefully acquire extra new viewers members than we’ve ever had earlier than. And I’m somebody who grew up in metropolis and state authorities whereas doing plenty of financial improvement work. All of my previous lives play an essential function in reaching out to the enterprise group, educators and foundations. There’s no query that being a Denver native helps that. Earlier than the dialog even begins, I’ve acquired plenty of mates on the market.
Q: You point out various audiences, however Denver’s greatest arts nonprofits have been desperately making an attempt to extend viewers variety for years now. How will you really try this?
A: I’ve acquired a historical past with serving to the indigenous group and their movie collection, and a protracted historical past with Tony Garcia of Su Teatro, who places on Latino movie occasions. These are all constructive conversations I’ve already had with people who’re enthusiastic about bringing Denver Movie assets to bear. It’s going to take a while, and a mixture of efforts, however we must be laying the groundwork proper now. Movie is a robust platform we might be utilizing to debate society, whether or not it’s John Lewis’ life in “Good Hassle” or a dialog about how Black Lives Matter needs to be perceived in Denver.
Q: What are some challenges that Denver Movie faces?
A: I feel we might be higher collaborators. We are able to (contribute to) what’s happening round us, as a result of movie engages individuals in an actual and genuine method. We might be extra concerned with the Latino and indigenous communities, and the humanities and tradition conversations happening in numerous components of town, just like the (Artwork District on Santa Fe). My function is to determine the place we are able to have probably the most influence.
Q: You’re the ninth of 13 youngsters, and the product of two self-made, educator dad and mom. What did you be taught from them? 
A: Solely all the things. My father had by no means taken a day without work from work as a result of he knew the youngsters (on the faculty the place he taught) counted on him — apart from at some point, and that at some point was voting day. With out telling us it was essential to vote or to be concerned within the electoral system, to serve the group and volunteer and be a neighbor, he simply did it. And also you couldn’t assist however absorb issues like that by osmosis. There have been 13 of us working round the home, which is loopy. I’ve three ladies and elevating them is consuming, so it’s onerous to fathom what that was like for my mom, along with the day care in her dwelling. Every thing was a studying alternative within the presence of my mom.
Q: Are your dad and mom nonetheless round?
A: Sure, in the identical home the place I grew up. They’ve been there for over 45 years. They raised us in Park Hill, and final yr I used to be very intentional about shifting again to the neighborhood. I reside three blocks from the place I used to be born, and 6 blocks from my dad and mom.
Q: And the Sie FilmCenter is correct throughout the road from the place you went to highschool.
A: East Excessive was not solely my alma mater for highschool, however my favourite years of schooling wherever, and that features faculty and a few graduate packages. There was a premium on being pupil and athlete in probably the most various atmosphere I’ve ever been in. It was nothing in need of profound for me.
Q: You declined to endorse Mayor Michael Hancock after dropping to him in 2011. How essential is your relationship along with his workplace?
A: It’s extremely essential, not just for the apparent transactional worth with Denver Arts & Venues (which owns Purple Rocks Amphitheatre and different main venues) but in addition for remaining on the forefront of town’s conversations. So routinely we’d be seeking to collaborate with them, as a result of their success is our success. I’ve acquired an excellent relationship with the mayor. There are issues I’ve agreed with and issues I’ve disagreed with, however I’ve been very intentional about taking a step again from metropolis politics after 2011. Rumor has it that his chief of employees, Alan Salazar, is a reasonably large movie buff, so we hope to see him round at lots of our occasions as nicely.
Q: How do you reply to individuals who say, “Properly, he has no movie expertise … .”
A: I’d say they’re utterly proper. I’ve zero movie expertise aside from being an appreciator thereof, and (I’m) completely entertained and related with my household over this magical medium. Is it a deficit? It relies on who you discuss to, but when there’s a energy on this group, it’s our programming and data of movie. Can I ever be the movie critic or programmer? No. We’ve acquired that a part of it down. My job is to help that. I like my view of cinema the place it’s. I don’t need to know an excessive amount of. It’s an excessive amount of of a medium that I take pleasure in to must dig into the warts of all of it.
Q: How are Denver Movie’s funds?
A: Like everybody else, we’re struggling within the time of COVID. Our gross revenues are down yr over yr about 50 p.c. That’s a dramatic drop. We’ve got been in a position to rebound by some reinvention, just like the Movie on the Rocks Drive-In collection, and renting the Sie FilmCenter for small teams whereas being cautious and persevering with to observe well being tips. Like many different organizations, sadly, we’ve needed to furlough some staff, and that’s robust coming off of a really sturdy yr earlier to the pandemic. However my half in that is to verify we emerge as a stronger group.
Q: What’s your favourite film?
A: “The Princess Bride.” It’s one thing my (household) can all watch collectively, no matter our different likes and actions. It’s one of many few that I really personal.
Q: What are you most wanting ahead to?
A: One factor is with the ability to present films and have bands at Purple Rocks once more. In my view, Purple Rocks is actually the very best place on the earth to listen to music and my favourite place to observe a film, and it’s a novel Colorado expertise. One other is making an attempt to have the movie pageant in individual. I like the joy of bringing collectively producers and administrators and actors with my mates and neighbors whereas sharing our love of cinema. We need to have in-person premieres and a purple carpet occasion, and perhaps even open that as much as new communities that haven’t been part of that earlier than.
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