Two councilmen object to funding Dover Tricentennial film project


From left, Nathan Cronk, Brian Harvath and Andy Ryan, of Big River Film Co., are hoping to get funding in order to produce a short film celebrating the city of Dover’s 300th anniversary. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — Dover City Councilmen Brian Lewis and Roy Sudler Jr. say they’re all for promoting the city.

But when it comes to spending money, they see more pressing needs than funding a short film honoring Dover’s 300th birthday celebration.

Mr. Lewis, who represents the city’s 2nd Council District, and Mr. Sudler, who represents the 4th District, cast the two dissenting votes when city council voted 6-2 to spend up to a possible $8,000 in seed funding to the Big River Film Co. for the film at its May 8 meeting.

“I am not in favor of supporting the disbursement of $8,000 to do a short film on Dover’s 300th birthday,” Mr. Lewis said. “I think this is an important topic that the citizens need to be aware of.

“We have people starving out on the streets of Dover, children that are homeless, the Dover Volunteer Fire Department needs a new fire hose … My question: Aren’t there other priorities that are more in need in this city than spending $8,000 for a short film? What kind of return investment will the city get with this film?”

Nathan Cronk and Brian Harvath, of Big River Film Co. at 117 West Reed St., said they are making the film as a way to pay tribute to and promote the city of Dover.

They both laughed at the notion that the film will be a money-maker and said they aren’t producing it to make a profit. They estimated that the entire project will cost around $20,000.

“I’m pretty excited,” said Mr. Harvath, producer and director of photography for Big River Film Co. “I think it’s a pretty ambitious project. It’s probably one of our more ambitious to date.

Brian E. Lewis

“I think we’re really interested in creating something great that really helps to bolster the downtown area.”

Mr. Cronk said he wasn’t quite sure what the eight-minute film will turn out to be.

“We’re looking at having somebody who represents the past, somebody who represents the current and somebody who represents the future,” he said, about his vision for the project. “We’re not exactly sure what that’s going to look like yet.

“Once we get the project funded then we can move forward with figuring out exactly who those people are and what roles they’ll fit into.”

Roy Sudler

Mr. Sudler said it’s unconscionable that the city would pay $8,000 on a film project while homeless people roam the streets of downtown Dover in search of help.

“I don’t feel comfortable putting forth $8,000 when something can be put forth to help the homeless,” he said. “The city could put aside $10,000, $5,000 or even $2,500 to assist with some of the food costs for helping to feed the homeless.”

Mr. Sudler said his mother had always told him that avoiding an immediate problem creates, in turn, a bigger one.

He said he respects preserving history, but just feels as if the timing is off for the film project.

He added that the homeless epidemic would likely not only impede economic growth but would also affect the crime rate, which has increased.

Councilman David Anderson weighed both sides of the issue and wound up voting in favor of supporting the film project.

He did ask for it to be put in writing that would allow the city to reserve the right to keep a copy of the film and have the rights to use it to promote and market the city.

Mr. Anderson said the city wasn’t just giving away money for the film but would be utilizing a public-private partnership, paying only 40 percent of the money and receiving 100 percent of the results.

“This effort is not being put together as a scheme,” he said. “The individuals involved are people that are known in the community who had done a good job in the past and wanted to do a true work worthy of Dover’s Tricentennial.

“This is a once in a lifetime, or at least once in a career, opportunity that should not be missed.”

Council President Tim Slavin said there is a need for the city to promote itself and noted that economic development was not just sitting in an office waiting for the phone to ring or jobs to come.

“I’ll take every chance I get to support the arts and cultural activities in the city because it improves the quality of life — and constituents want the quality of life to remain very high in the city.”

The motion for approval of the committee’s recommendation to provide $4,000 initial seed money to Big River Film Co. was eventually passed, and if the film company comes back and states that they have received another $4,000, the city will provide an additional $4,000.

The motion added that if the city provides the seed money, it would be put in writing that the City of Dover has the right to promote, market and share the film with its partners.

Mr. Cronk and Mr. Harvath said that getting the 300th anniversary project for Dover funded is more than just developing a short film to them.

“Our hope if we get fully funded is to spend ad-spend dollars behind it and to push it out on Facebook and YouTube,” Mr. Cronk said. “That way it can be seen by potentially anybody on the East Coast to learn more about Dover and to get excited about what all we have to offer in this town.”

Funding the film still doesn’t quite sit right with Mr. Lewis and Mr. Sudler, who both insist the money could be better used elsewhere.

“There are more important priorities in the city for which this money can be utilized,” said Mr. Lewis. “There is a need to prioritize where money will be used and I cannot support this measure.”

Mr. Sudler said, “It’s disingenuous to spend $8,000, knowing that there are homeless constituents who come to almost every council meeting asking for assistance. Something needs to be done before money is spent on a film.”

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