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In Response: Private group is renting Ely theater for Trump film

From the column: "The organizer has expressed repeatedly to (Ely’s Historic State Theater) staff that the event is intended to be open to everyone of all political affiliations, and there is no interest in drumming up controversy."

Ely's State Theater.
Ely's Historic State Theater in February 2019, following Blake Freking's victory in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. The theater is hosting two screenings of the film "2000 Mules" on Saturday.
Brady Slater / file / Duluth News Tribune
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I write as the chair of the board of directors of Ely’s Historic State Theater (EHST) and in response to the June 23 story, “ Ely theater counters insurrection hearings with pro-Trump film .” The article contains crucial errors, including in the headline, so I would like to provide clarification and correction.

The movie, “2000 Mules,” is being screened on the morning of June 25 at EHST by a local organization that is renting the theater. The mission of Ely’s Historic State Theater is “to be a cultural hub of film, arts, entertainment, and learning that cultivate a vibrant, healthy community.” The theater’s policy is to not discriminate against any individuals, groups, or organizations that wish to rent the space. We could not in good faith deny this group's request to host its event at the theater without violating this nondiscrimination policy. As long as entities are able to meet the theater's scheduling requirements, and their events are also not discriminatory, the theater makes its space available. EHST has adopted this policy to ensure equal representation by all individuals, groups, and organizations in the Ely community and surrounding areas.

The group that is renting the theater Saturday morning — outside of EHST’s regular hours of operation, so as not to interfere with “clean screen” agreements the theater must maintain with movie distributors — is paying the theater’s standard hourly rental fee. The event organizers have also, of their own accord, secured the public-performance license for the film and are responsible for paying those fees. The theater is not receiving any proceeds from the ticket sales beyond the rental fee. The primary goal of the organization renting the space is to break even, not to fundraise for any candidate.

The event is nonpartisan, as it is legally required to be in order for the candidate for sheriff (a nonpartisan office) to be in attendance. According to the organizer, this event is primarily to be a meet-and-greet with the candidates and a chance for people to watch the film. As of this writing, it is uncertain whether a discussion of the movie will take place after the screening. The group organizing the event is still firming up its plans. The organizer has expressed repeatedly to EHST staff that the event is intended to be open to everyone of all political affiliations, and there is no interest in drumming up controversy.

The EHST board of directors appreciates that some people will disagree with or might be offended by the content of the movie, but the fact that it has played at most major movie chains across the nation, including in Duluth, makes it difficult for us to refuse to rent the space for the screening of this film. That would clearly be an act of discrimination or censorship without cause.

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It is the position of EHST, as a public resource, to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, which means remaining available to groups, organizations, and individuals who may or may not share the same beliefs as the theater board, management, or staff.

EHST is grateful for the high level of interest shown this week in the theater and its rental policies. Any additional input can be addressed to me or to any board member.

David Wigdahl of Ely is board chair of Ely's Historic State Theater.

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