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Living Room Theaters gears up for late 2010 opening on campus

Giving Florida Atlantic University students the option to drink a beer while watching an independent film on campus could determine whether a new program succeeds in the aftermath of another FAU film program that sputtered and virtually died.

In 1997, the DeSantis Center for the Study and Development of the Motion Picture and Entertainment Industry opened at FAU under the umbrella of the College of Business. However, not much has been happening at the DeSantis Center since it had three audits in one year that focused a microscope on spending in 2003 and 2004.

In fall 2005, the university issued a mandate requiring that the focus of the reduced $211,000 DeSantis Center budget be focused on students instead of faculty, staff, and industry insiders. Auditors found that more than $35,000 had been spent on limousine services and expensive parties on the French Riviera.

Under the new student-centered guidelines, and with so many film students in the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies rather than the School of Business, the DeSantis program faltered. Last semester, the College of Business’ Adams Center for Entrepreneurship took over the DeSantis Executive Suite.

Seeking to focus on student development, the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies is moving forward with an innovative plan improve the film studies program. One goal is to enhance the experience that FAU students will have with the film and movie-making industry.

The public-private partnership is the brainchild of Susan Reilly, the school's director. She found her new business partner quite by accident. At the height of her search for an investor, FAU film instructor Mike Budd met Diego Rimoch on a flight home from the Toronto Film Festival.

"Mike knew that I was looking for the right kind of a partner, so he asked Diego for his card, and Mike brought it in to me," Reilly said.

Rimoch and his parents, prominent Mexican filmmakers Ernesto and Eva Rimoch, are the creators and owners of Living Room Theaters Inc. Their six-screen art movie complex in Portland, Ore., has operated since 2006, and the family had been looking for ways to expand operations to other cities for the last couple of years.

The four 49-seat theaters and attached European-style cafe will be accessible from the large, three-story atrium of FAU's new Culture and Society Building. From Monday to Friday until 5 p.m. the theater wing of the building will serve as high-tech digital classrooms.

The "high-tech" portion of those classrooms comes largely from a $1.5 million donation by the Rimochs and Living Room Theaters Inc. The donation also qualified for matching funds, so Reilly's public-private partnership brought in $3 million in additional funds for the cutting-edge theater wing of the building.

That wing will also house the new offices for the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies on the second floor.

Although the school will not move its offices until the December 2010 break, Living Room Theaters hopes to be in its facility and operating by November.

"The contractors have indicated that they will have reached the stage of substantial completion by Aug. 31, with the changeover to us scheduled for Oct. 31," Rimoch said in a telephone interview from his Portland office.

On weekday evenings and throughout the weekend, Living Room Theaters will run the facility in much the same way as Portland operations, complete with a liquor license.

Rimoch said that mixing a theater with a liquor license can make operations complicated. The problem arises because, in a dark theater, there is no way to supervise who is actually consuming the drink. The solution in Portland was to leave a "moat"—a row of empty seats to separate the under-21 crowd from those who can legally drink alcohol.

The theater operator said French wine probably will be available in the café, which will be much more affordable than a junket to the Cannes Film Festival with limos to and from the airports.



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