York County communities can't get a break from Disney, other film companies

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, is the star of “Zootopia.” The animated film was top at the box office for the third weekend.

York City's decades-old free movies series at Kiwanis Lake is in jeopardy because city officials say the fees to license the movies are hard to justify. 

It costs about $2,000 to fund weekly movie nights from June to August, said Diaz Woodard, York City's recreation program specialist.

"The movie series has been something we’ve been trying to continue, but there’s a possibility it may not continue further," he said. "It just gets costly."

To save money, the 2020 movie series will be shortened to one month in July, and there may not be a series at all in 2021, he said.

The issue of large media companies levying hefty fees on schools, local governments and nonprofit organizations for hosting small community film screenings resurfaced this week in a CNN report about a California elementary school that had to pay $250 to The Walt Disney Co. for showing that studio's remake of "The Lion King" at a parent teacher association fundraiser in November.

In that case, the Emerson Elementary School PTA was charging admission to raise money for the school.

But in York City, the movie screenings are free and open to the public, with concessions donated by ES3, a local warehousing and supply chain company.

"It gives the community a sense of belonging, a sense of them being a priority for their city," Woodard said.

Last summer, the movie series featured films such as "Ralph Breaks the Internet," "Incredibles 2" and "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom."

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West York borough, too, recently ran into an issue with licensing fees.

In August 2018, the West York Borough Police Department hosted a free screening of Disney's "Zootopia," an animated film about a bunny named Judy Hopps who leaves her rural hometown to join the police force in a big city inhabited by anthropomorphic sloths, foxes, lions and other animals.

The movie, released in 2016, deals with issues of diversity in law enforcement, urban policing and overcoming bias and discrimination.

West York Police Chief Matt Millsaps said his department wanted to promote this message to children in the community, help them see the police in a new light and maybe even encourage some of them to join the police force one day.

The event was a success, with about 100 to 150 people in attendance, said Borough Manager Shawn Mauck, but the borough had to pay a $500 licensing fee to show the film.

"These are large media companies that have a lot of money and certainly have no problem promoting or advertising that they care and support local communities," Millsaps said. "But they also seem to be overly aggressive in trying to ensure that a fee is paid to them for good-natured nonprofit screenings of their films after they’re out of the movie theater."

Community members ultimately donated enough funds to cover the fee, but Millsaps said it would make sense for Disney and other companies to waive the fee on a case-by-case basis.

If the licensing fees weren't so steep, Millsaps said, the borough and the police department might consider hosting more free events for families.

Disney did not respond to a request for comment.

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