Patrons line up outside and file though the front door at opening night of  Thin Line Fest at the Campus Theatre Wednesday February 18, 2015.

Patrons line up outside and file though the front door at opening night of Thin Line Fest at the Campus Theatre Wednesday February 18, 2015.

Kristen Watson/DRC

Officials with Thin Line announced two major changes to the Denton film, music and photography festival for 2017. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the downtown festival, which focuses on documentary film.

Admission will be free, founder and creative director Joshua Butler said.

"Making the festival free is something we've been dreaming about for a long time now. Getting more people in the theater, more people into the music venues and more people in to see the photos -- that's what we want to see," Butler said. "That's the goal."

This year, the board estimated the volunteer-run festival attracted 2,102 attendees to the international film festival. Board members said 1,395 attended the music showcases hosted in downtown bars and venues, and 6,871 attended the photo festival -- which was a network of pop-up gallery exhibitions.

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Patrons could choose from a range of packages to get into the festival for the past few years. All-access passes surpassed the $100 mark this year, but single-screening tickets and music shows were between $4 and $30. Butler said free admission might entice new patrons to the screenings and shows.

"The fact that our Thin Line for the Family screenings had people at the Campus Theatre at 10:30 a.m. is a good example of free admission bringing people to the event," Butler said. "The only other film festival that lets people in for free that I know of is AFI in [Los Angeles]."

At present, the board hasn't announced that the fest will be free after 2017.

The festival also moves from February to April 19-23. Butler said the move gives the board time to get more titles for the film portion of the festival.

"We're going to Sundance," Butler said.

Sundance Film Festival is an independent film festival that opens each January in Park Cities, Utah. It was founded by actor and director Robert Redford and has become a portal to cinema distribution for indie filmmakers.

"By moving the festival to April, we get the benefit of having all of the films to choose from, because Sundance and South by Southwest are over," Butler said. "And there's no substitute for being at Sundance. You walk up to filmmakers, you introduce yourself and tell them what festival you're with, and you tell them, 'We want to screen your film.'"

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Stanton Brasher, the director of film programming for Thin Line, said the February dates hamstrung filmmakers.

"More than one filmmaker told us that 'Hey, I made this film in your backyard, and I want to screen it in Denton, but I'm waiting to hear from Sundance or South by Southwest.' A later submission deadline really lifts those constraints for the filmmakers."

Paul Meltzer, the vice president of Thin Line's board, said free admission could serve as a stimulus for underwriting.

"Ticket sales and sponsorships are important parts of our revenue as a festival," Meltzer said. "If we get more people into the events, it could be a big benefit for our sponsors."

Butler said regional and national sponsors often won't support events until they attract larger numbers.

Board member Susan Carol Davis said the new, later date also means there is a chance for the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote Thin Line during South by Southwest. The visitors bureau has a booth at the Austin film and music festival, and markets Denton's creative activities to travelers and businesses.

The festival's board has decided to offer VIP access to patrons who want to buy priority seating and access to private meet-and-greet events with filmmakers, producers and entertainment industry representatives, Butler said.

Sponsorship packages are available for the 2017 season. Individuals who donate $50 or more more during a calendar year are welcomed into the Above the Line Club, which will offer access to exclusive events -- meet-and-greets and gallery openings -- as well as discounts on Thin Line merchandise.

For more information about sponsoring the 2017 Thin Line festival, email sales@thinline.us.

By Lucinda Breeding, Denton Record Chronicle

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