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Donors, including a celebrity, help keep Rio Theater alive

  • Owner Don Schaffert strings up film on one the old projectors at the Rio Theater in Monte Rio on Thursday, May 2, 2013. The theater recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a digital projector. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

The Rio Theater, the rickety old gem on the Russian River that can get so cold movie-goers are handed blankets, has raised the funds it needs to stay open, with some last-minute help from a Hollywood star, its supporters announced.

Zach Braff, the actor and director known for his movie "Garden State" and the TV series "Scrubs," donated money on crowdfunding website Kickstarter that pushed the Monte Rio theater over the edge to reach its fundraising goal, theater owners said.

"Oh my God, we're so excited," said co-owner Suzi Schaffert, 58. "And what really blows my mind is that people keep putting money in there, so it means maybe we can fix the heater ... and start doing the repairs people have asked for. Don and I had pretty much resigned to we'd just shut down, because we can't come up with $60,000."

Rio Theater

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Owners Suzi and Don Schaffert began the fundraising campaign in the winter, after major movie studios announced they would no longer distribute first-run movies on traditional 35 mm film. All theaters would have to switch to digital projection, at a cost of up to $60,000, or else.

The theater's trajectory turned when a neighbor who lives uphill from the Rio, Sherry Pimsler, 68, offered to help. She had read about Kickstarter in a newspaper article, and got a small group of women together to start a campaign.

"They've been a very integral part of the community, and you sense that when you go in," Pimsler said of the Schafferts. "They know everyone, they've been here for years, and I wasn't willing to see that go away. And besides that, Monte Rio can't afford to see another business close down."

By Thursday, with four days left in the fundraising campaign, the theater had raised $63,287 from 448 backers, according to the Kickstarter site.

For a place whose story made it to the Los Angeles Times and captured the attention of Hollywood, the Rio was characteristically quiet on Thursday afternoon. Don Schaffert, 68, flipped hot dogs on the grill as his chocolate Lab Murphy stretched wearily in the shade on the deck adjacent to the theater.

"We all worked together, and we got several volunteers, and they just worked their little tails off," Don Schaffert said.

The 240-seat theater, housed in a World War II surplus Quonset hut, is full personal touches and oddities. Murals inside depict decades of Bay Area history, including the release of "Star Wars," and were painted by a couple of local teens and an artist who was passing through town. Along the stairwell leading up to the projector room, a depiction of the Virgin Mary was roughly drawn in the hope of scaring away a ghost, Don Schaffert said.


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