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Plans developing for Film is Truth as nonprofit video center

The Film is Truth video store in downtown Bellingham is one of apparently a small handful of video stores nationwide attempting to survive as nonprofits.

With the idea so new, the question remains whether the public, with ready access to movies online, will support a brick-and-mortar archive of videos, even one that reaches out to the community with classes, workshops and other programs.

“No one, at least no one who cares about books, questions the value of an independent bookstore or a library with community programming in this age of Amazon,” said Anna Wolff, a poet, a writing instructor at Whatcom Community College and president of Film is Truth’s new board of directors. “I see us in the same vein, playing a parallel role in the community for film lovers, filmmakers, and even the ‘film curious.’”

“And I think Bellingham, with its population that cares about the arts and keeping them a vital part of our lives, is a great place to undertake this venture,” she said.

Online access to movies is killing for-profit video rental stores at a rapid clip, from nationwide chains to mom-and-pop video outlets.

Proponents of the nonprofit approach consider their stores’ video inventories — with tens of thousands of titles that include classics, art movies, foreign films, documentaries, and other hard-to-find titles — a valuable resource that should be preserved and kept accessible to the public. Film is Truth has 15,000 titles, and growing.

As nonprofits, video stores could seek grants and charitable donations, have volunteers help with operations, and host community-minded programs that focus on films and filmmaking.

“I’m really excited about what we can do,” said Dee Dee Chapman, a board member who manages Film is Truth.

Film Is Truth incorporated as a nonprofit in January. The next step, gaining federal tax-exempt status, could come by the end of the year.

At least a few other video stores in the country are pursuing the same approach. In Richmond, Va., Video Fan, a nearly 30-year-old store with 40,000 videos, was facing tight times. So the store launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $37,000, enough to renew its lease, expand its collection, and renovate its space.

“We have loyal customers,” said Andrew Blossom, Video Fan’s manager.

The store hopes to obtain its nonprofit status soon, then do more fundraising and start community programs.

In Seattle, Scarecrow Video, a mammoth store with 130,000 titles, won nonprofit status in October 2014 and is pursing tax-exempt recognition.

“We’re one of the first, if not the first,” said Matt Lynch, marketing coordinator at Scarecrow.

Scarecrow went the nonprofit route because its longtime owners wanted out of the business, Lynch said.

At Film is Truth, co-owners Emily Marston and Karl Freske opted for a nonprofit even though their business wasn’t in debt.

“We’re not in dire financial shape,” said Sam Kaas, events coordinator at Village Books and vice president of Film is Truth’s board of directors. “We’ve been able to take the time and put it together in a way that’s going to work for everybody.”

Freske and Marston plan to donate the store’s inventory to the nonprofit, with more titles being acquired all the time.

“It is a large collection and it is well-preserved,” Kaas said.

Ideas for community programs at Film is Truth are plentiful. Possibilities include film classes for young people, classes about filmmaking and screenwriting, school programs and movie classes that focus on particular eras, genres or directors. Some programs might be offered at Film is Truth, 211 W. Holly St., or maybe elsewhere.

“I think there are plenty of venues that would be happy to work with us,” Chapman said.

While the push for tax-exempt status proceeds, Chapman is helping to develop guidelines about how volunteers could help the nonprofit operate and succeed.

“Not everyone wants to work at the counter,” she said. “Some people want to volunteer to help run events.”