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Irish Film Festival leaves Beverly

Updated: April 2, 2013 6:05AM



The Chicago Irish Film Festival, a source of community pride in Chicago’s 19th Ward since its inception, is moving to downtown Chicago, leaving behind the beleaguered Beverly Arts Center which has struggled to pay off its debt.

The festival is moving to AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St., and The Society for the Arts, 1112 N. Milwaukee Ave. It runs Friday through Wednesday.

Nancy Abbate, the arts center’s interim executive director, said the film festival “did excellently” and was well attended when it was held in Beverly. Still, she says there’s no hard feelings over the move.

“The festival wasn’t our festival. They can take it where they wish, and they wanted a larger platform,” Abbate said. “Downtown does have the panache of being in downtown Chicago. We’re happy they’ll have that type of aura and panache.”

Barbara O’Malley, president of the center’s board of directors, and Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) did not return calls seeking comment.

The arts center has been going through tough financial times. Last summer, longtime center director Mike Nix was fired at the urging of Fifth Third Bank. The center was having trouble paying back the $4.5 million mortgage owed to Fifth Third.

At the time, supporters said the center was having trouble drawing from outside the Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood communities. Nevertheless, Abbate says that’s changing with attractions like live plays and bands that have wider appeal.

“We’re doing well. Look at the website and see all the shows that we have. Things really are on the upswing here. We had close to 200 people at the (annual fundraising) auction on Feb. 9,” she said.

But unlike past years, the center, 2407 W. 111th St., won’t be showing movies from Ireland in March as festival founder Jude Blackburn moved the 14th annual film festival “to broaden its audience and grow the festival.”

“It’s (being done) to grow new audiences, grow interest from sponsors and even get more focus from the city of Chicago,” she said.

“Moving downtown has really changed the perspective. We’ve already seen a huge change in the number of hits on Facebook. In the last two weeks, we’ve had a 2,000 percent increase in people ages 18 to 32. That’s a big spike and we have lots of films that appeal to them,” Blackburn said.

She expects a larger walk-up business downtown and in the Wicker Park neighborhood. Organizers of other film festivals have told her for years to move downtown to increase visibility, she said. She did not rule out some future festivals screening movies in Beverly.

Nix, who serves on the film festival’s board of directors, called the move, “a perfect fit.”

“We’re excited about it. AMC River East is where Hollywood has film debuts in Chicago. We’re in the big league,” Nix said.

Tickets to individual screenings ranged between $10 and $15. Admission to the opening reception and screening is $25 and to the closing night screening and reception is $25. More information and a complete festival schedule and tickets can be found at www.chicagoirishfilmfestival.com.



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