Stars align in Chatham

FilmColumbia marks a decade with over 50 movies and events

CHATHAM– FilmColumbia is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The film festival, which FilmColumbia director Calliope Nicholas calls a labor of love, started in 1999 with 12 films over two days. This year there are more than 50 films over four days–October 22 to 25. Screenings include some big- and not-so-big-name films, as well as the work of first-time filmmakers, shown at the historic Crandell Theatre on Main Street, at the Morris Memorial around the corner on Park Row and at the Tracy Memorial, which is the village hall. Last year the film club sold over 6,000 tickets to people from all over the country, says Ms. Nicholas.

“Our reputation is growing as one of the best organized small film festivals,” said Ms. Nicholas in a recent interview with The Columbia Paper. And while the prospects look good for another successful year, she said that other small film festivals, like one held in Lake Placid, have had to close because of poor economic times. The Chatham Film Club, which organizes the festival, runs it “lean and mean” at a cost of about $100,000, she said. Traditionally, almost all of the costs are recouped in ticket sales.

The Columbia County Council on the Arts had hosted films festivals in the county and partnered with the film club in 1999 on the initial project. But in 2000 the club organized the festival on its own. And though the festival has grown over years Ms. Nicholas stressed that almost all the people involved in FilmColumbia are volunteers, unlike the Woodstock Film Festival held earlier this month, which has a full-time paid organizer.

The film club is also trying to raise money to buy the Crandell Theatre, a project that has the support of second-generation theater owner Tony Quirino, who plans to retire. Though the film festival is not a fundraiser for the purchase, called Crandell Legacy Campaign, Ms. Nicholas says the festival will screen a locally made commercial that plays just before the regular features at the Crandell and encourages people to donate to the campaign. The festival will also present an original animation about the effort to buy the old fashioned, single-screen theater.

The club hopes to raise $1.5 million to buy the business and make needed upgrades to the Crandell, which has been in operation since 1926. The theater recently acquired a new sound system, but Ms. Nicholas says that the film festival must rent special technology needed to play digital movies at the theater.

As for the movies at this year’s festival, executive director and co-programmer of events Peter Biskind said this will be the best year yet. Ms. Nicholas said that many of the films were stand-outs at the Cannes, New York and Toronto festivals. “You don’t have to travel to all those places,” she said. “You’re going to see them all here.”

The films include : An Education, with a script by British novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), which won a major award atthis year’s Sundance Film Festival; Men Who Stare at Goats, starring George Clooney; the Coen brothers’ new movie, A Serious Man; director Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, the last movie of Heath Ledger; and Precious, a film produced by Oprah Winfrey.

“We have more far-reaching tentacles into the film community,” says Mr. Biskind, adding, “This year, there’s also a fine selection of work from local filmmakers.” There is a film starring Joseph Feinnes about a man who swims most of the Hudson River called Against the Current, which was filmed locally. There is a documentary directed by Schodack residents about companies going green called So Right, So Smart, and a documentary by Columbia County students about the making of Ang Lee’s feature Taking Woodstock. 

There will be a red carpet event this year at the Morris Memorial for the Taiwanese movie I Can’t Live Without You. The film’s star, Wen Pin Chen, is flying in for the event.

And the festival will continue its Saturday “Sneak” presentation, a major film, the title of which is kept under wraps until the audience is seated. Following the Sneak showing, the festival will hold a 10th anniversary celebration at the Tracy Memorial.

Ms. Nicholas said that the film festival also showcases Chatham’s Main Street, which recently got a facelift from the state. Construction crews have just finished paving the road and planting new trees. “We appreciate any organization that brings attention to the village,” said Village Trustee Dave Chapman.

Mayor Paul Bohme noted the “influx of people” the festival brings to the village. He also noted that the village lends the film club the Tracy Memorial as the site for ticket sales during the festival. 

Tickets are on sale now online at www.filmcolumbia.com, by mail, phone (518) 392-3445, and at the Chatham Book Store on Main Street. Tickets may be purchased individually for each film or moviegoers can pre-order an All-Film Pass ($80 members; $110 non-members) or a Gold Pass ($125 members; $175 non-members), which allows entry into all events. Events do sell out, and the festival organizers advise film buffs to order tickets soon.

To contact Emilia Teasdale, email .

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