Hollywood puts the bite on free movies in Bristol

BRISTOL — Bristol’s long-running “Movies on the Park” series recently took a financial hit, but the show(s) will go on — at least for the rest of this summer.
The hit came via notification through a movie distributor that the Bristol Recreation Department needed to pay fees for the movies it has been showing for free on a big screen in the park. This year’s titles have included “The Love Bug” and “Jumanji.” The series includes a total of six summer movies on select Thursdays beginning at dusk, offering what organizers tout as a “drive-in experience without the driving.” An average of 50 to 100 spectators have been attending the movies, with viewership dependent on the title, weather and mosquitoes, according to Bristol Recreation Director Darla Senecal.
Event organizers were stunned when they received a call last month from a movie distributor, Swank Motion Pictures Inc., indicating the town was obliged to pay fees for screening the films in the park. Bristol officials believed the films could be shown without paying royalties as part of a movie screening license held by the Lawrence Memorial Library. But further scrutiny of the license revealed the fee exemption only applied to movies shown inside the library, according to Bristol town Administrator Bill Bryant.
No one is sure how the distributor got wind of the outdoor movie series.
“We thought we were doing it right,” Bryant said. “We had this license and thought we were good to go.”
All of a sudden, Movies on the Park was on the hook for $1,800 in fees that were certainly not in the budget.
“We don’t even have 18 extra dollars in the budget,” Senecal quipped.
Enter Champlain Valley Telecom, a company that has agreed to pick up the $1,800 tab this year as a sponsor. Bryant and Senecal are thankful for the support and are now considering the future of the popular Movies in the Park series, an event they want to remain free.
“I’ll continue to search for sponsors for the series,” Senecal said. “It’s a beloved event … We want people to be able to participate.”
It is in that spirit that Bristol Recreation tries to offer as many free events as it can. Among them: The “Parties in the Park” series featuring monthly, family-friendly, free luncheons held from noon to 1 p.m. at the park. June’s party was a “Teddy Bear Picnic.” A few weeks ago, there was a “Hometown Heroes” luncheon, featuring fire, police and rescue personnel. And on Aug. 21, there will be a “Prince and Princess Tea” that will include storytelling.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Senecal said of the free events.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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