By SHIRLEY WITHERSPOON
Hoboken International Film Festival has decided not to return to Middletown after making the city’s Paramount Theater its exclusive venue for the last four years. HIFF, already being courted by several municipalities in New York and New Jersey, decided to part ways with Middletown because of a vision difference between HIFF Chairman Kenneth Del Vecchio and Middletown’s Mayor Joe DeStefano.
“Joe wants city employees to run the Paramount and the city has failed to consult with me regarding numerous events. That, simply, has turned me off,” said Del Vecchio, “I don’t want my film festival to further get subsumed in that miscalculation.”
Additionally, Del Vecchio was not willing to bend on a $40,000 annual sponsorship fee that the parties had agreed upon, in principle, at a press conference this past September. The deal had called for Middletown to pay HIFF $40,000 a year for 2017, 2018, and 2019. This was a modest increase from the previous 3-year-deal between HIFF and Middletown, wherein the city paid $35,000, $30,000, and $25,000 for 2016, 2015, and 2014 respectively. Del Vecchio said that originally he wanted a normal incremental deal – to match the set-up of their first three year contract – with payments of $40,000, $45,000 and $50,000 – but that he settled on the flat $40,000 annual payments after negotiations.
“My goal had been to stay in Middletown because I love the city’s residents and the Paramount Theater, which I rebuilt over the last three years. I had given the mayor a rock bottom sponsorship fee of $40,000 a year and back in September he concurred on that deal. But the other day, Joe said that he wanted HIFF to accept less. I told him that was unacceptable, and the festival can’t function with its same level of success at any lower figure. Now, HIFF is out.”
This substantial negotiation bungle by the city – which will cause it to lose a star-studded entertainment event that infused millions yearly into the local economy, attracted 15,000 people at every year’s event, and created hundreds of jobs – is best summarized by the below article published last week by Empire State News, when we reported the $10 million grant just bestowed upon the city – and HIFF’s likely departure from the city. FOLLOWING IS THE ARTICLE FROM LAST WEEK:
A grant application spearheaded by a member of Middletown’s city government resulted in Governor Andrew Cuomo bestowing a $10 million check upon the embattled Hudson Valley city. The monies have been drawn by New York state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative competition.
At a well-attended event at Middletown’s Paramount Theater – a red-plushed seat historic venue built in 1930 – Cuomo delivered a symbolic, extra large cardboard check to Middletown’s mayor Joe DeStefano. The city’s political boss accepted the gesture with cheery gratitude and described the funds’ intended usage: for matters primarily related to entertainment, arts, and education. Ironically, the purported usage of these multi-million taxpayer dollars may get squandered into perhaps well-intended, but very likely uneventful, disorganized projects. This is because the main force behind Middletown’s recent entertainment boon – Kenneth Del Vecchio and his Hoboken International Film Festival – likely will not be returning to Middletown.
As recently reported in Empire State News, in 2013 Del Vecchio rocketed the Paramount Theater from near death to becoming not only the economic anchor of the city, but to a daily entertainment destination for community and Orange County residents and, often, people traveling from well beyond its borders. On many occasions, especially during the week of the film festival, fans travelled from all
across the world to Middletown, to get a glimpse of one of numerous internationally famous actors or a cutting edge movie that no one has before seen.
“That will all abruptly end,” one city official said on the condition of anonymity. “It doesn’t matter what kind of money we get here. You can’t duplicate the kind of work that Ken Del Vecchio did. He was a true one in a million.”
Del Vecchio had reinstated showing movies on a daily basis at the Paramount immediately upon his arrival and he reinstituted famed live comedy and quality music acts taking the theater’s stage. None of this had been done for about 20 years before his tenure as Paramount chairman. These combined local heroics are what paved the way for the state’s $10 million grant.
But it is rumored that DeStefano is not a fan of Del Vecchio and his politics. Could one man prevent Middletown’s greatest attraction from coming back because of a personality issue and political leanings? “Yes,” said the local official, “Joe DeStefano can do it. Ken is incredibly outspoken, he’s a legitimate celebrity, and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks. I don’t think Joe likes Ken and the way he thinks and that may be enough for him to prevent the film festival, that everyone waits for all year, from coming back. Who knows what Ken’s plans are anyway.”
According to Del Vecchio, he wants to return to Middletown, though other municipalities are already lining up to try to take the festival and his magic away from the city. And that may actually be Del Vecchio’s plan – to move on while Hoboken International Film Festival and his brand are red hot.
There’s even been a rumor that the City talked about purchasing the festival, but that Del Vecchio declined the overture. Del Vecchio refused to validate the rumor, but said, “I’m a business man. I’ll listen to any offer. But I don’t think Middletown has the wherewithal to buy HIFF anyway. It’s not a knock, but my guess is that this $10 million has all kinds of strings attached to it and they can’t use it in ways that they would want to. So I don’t think they’ll be making any offer to buy HIFF.”
Time will tell, but the government’s running of entertainment events (and most non-government related functions) are usually a total flop. Del Vecchio weighed in on that largely agreed upon notion, with a statement that may summarize why DeStefano might not like him (but why so many others do): “Maybe Middletown doesn’t need me. Maybe it doesn’t need anyone. Maybe this $10 million will get Quentin Tarantino to be the next Paramount chairman. But here’s one that’s not a ‘maybe.’ Here’s a definite. Middletown will never again get a dude as muscular and great-looking as me to be the face of the Paramount. God bless Quentin, but he’s kind of scrawny and goofy looking. Joe would be better to put himself as the face – I’m not too happy with him, but at least he’s got muscle.”
And here’s another definite: Middletown will never again get an event anywhere near the power of Hoboken International Film Festival, $10 million grant or not. It is unclear whether DeStefano really doesn’t like Del Vecchio and his politics; however, nothing else could explain why the city would make such a massive flub in not ensuring the return of this film festival. Especially with the city’s receipt of this huge monetary grant.
So, hopefully, these two muscular guys get happy with each other. “If they don’t,” the official said, “Everybody’s going to blame Joe, and this grant will be overshadowed by the loss of Hoboken Film Festival, and Ken Del Vecchio will walk into the sunset with another city getting all the glory, something Ken keeps rubbing in our faces behind the scenes. I forgot to mention, I don’t personally like Ken myself. But I sure as hell don’t dislike him enough to lose that film festival to some other city.”
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