And the rest is history

Jun 17, 2017 1313

Opportunity knocked in a big way when Italian Festivals of New Mexico (IFNM) searched for a larger venue to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its popular annual flagship event, the NM Italian Film & Culture Festival. A fundraiser for disadvantaged kids, the multi-day festival was bursting at the seams of its traditional theater and event venues, and needed room to accommodate a growing audience.

Enter NDI New Mexico with an offer to host the festival in its beautifully renovated Hiland Theater home. And dare we say . . . the rest is history. With NDI, the festival found not only an ideal new location and a built-in beneficiary that shared its commitment to the well-being of children, but also the opportunity to bring back a bit of history to Route 66. Including the screen and projector, IFNM’s gift to NDI from the 2017 NM Italian Film & Culture Festival totaled more than $31,000. A ceremonial check presentation will take place to a full house at the Hiland Theater on Friday, June 23, 2017 at 7:00 PM just before NDI New Mexico’s Summer Dance Institute performance, Fly Me to The Moon, which features over 150 children learning about the elements of our universe through the joyful discipline of dance.

The Hiland opened its doors in 1950 and soon became a movie theater landmark along the Mother Road in Albuquerque. It screened its last film in the summer of 1995 and served as a live performance space for Musical Theater Southwest (MTS) until 2004 when MTS moved out and left the Hiland empty for the next five years.

In 2009, the nonprofit NDI New Mexico signed a lease with Bernalillo County and set out to raise the dollars needed to renovate and refurbish the Hiland to use as its Albuquerque base for delivering programs to over 3,500 children locally and nearly 10,000 statewide annually. Their distinctive program uses dance and music to engage and motivate children, helping them develop discipline, a standard of excellence and belief in themselves that carries over into all aspects of their lives. Over the next few years NDI New Mexico took over the entire Hiland Theater block, transforming the old Walgreens and other former retail outlets into dance studios, offices, and a 600-seat performance space with a massive stage floor and state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems.

When IFNM and NDI shook hands on their new partnership in the spring of 2016, restoration of the Hiland was complete except for two key elements essential for hosting a film festival – a big screen and projector. IFNM’s Board of Directors rejected rental in favor of a permanent gift to NDI of a theater-size retractable screen and a theater-quality projector.

“It just made sense from several points of view,” notes IFNM Treasurer, Carl Alongi. “Our gift brought the historic Hiland Theater back to its movie theater roots. It ensured that the Italian Festival films would be professionally projected for optimal audience enjoyment, and that the festival partnership between NDI New Mexico and IFNM could continue for years to come. It also enhanced NDI’s revenue-generating options, putting NDI in a position to rent the facility for other film festivals and community activities requiring quality projection capabilities.”

And little more digging into the archives of Albuquerque’s historic theaters also reveals a sliver of serendipity at play here. As it turns out, the Hiland, like all the Duke City’s most celebrated theaters - the Sunshine, the El Rey, and the Kimo - was built by an Italian. It seems only fitting – some might even say pre-destined – that Frank Peloso’s Hiland Theater would be restored to its motion picture origins with a little help from the state’s most prominent Italian organization nearly 70 years later.

SOURCE: Italy in New Mexico

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