Film fans flock to silver screen

Film buffs grab socially distanced seats Saturday at the Crandell Theatre on Main Street in the Village of Chatham for the 22nd FilmColumbia film festival. Organizers are pleased by the turnout this year after the festival was canceled last year at this time due to the pandemic. Safety measures have been adopted including requirements for full vaccination and a facemask. Photos by David Lee

CHATHAM—FilmColumbia commenced its 22nd annual film festival at the Crandell Theatre October 22, after last year’s cancellation of the event due to the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown. From last Friday through October 31, the festival will present 38 films and a program of children’s shorts on the screen of the Crandell Theatre on Main Street in the village.

This year it’s an in-person festival but with restrictions that acknowledge the continuing threat of the virus. Attendees must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask. Also, attendance at any particular screening will be limited to half of the seats available, which means a limit of about 267 tickets per film. Popcorn is available in the new concessions area, but no food or drink is allowed in the theater during screenings.

Reflecting on the turnout so far Sunday afternoon, October 24, the festival’s co-artistic director, Laurence Kardish, and FilmColumbia Managing Director Calliope Nicholas were sipping from a glass well more than half full.

“I am pleased with the response so far,” said Kardish Sunday afternoon. “The evening films are doing particularly well, but every film is strong.”

As of Sunday evening, the Friday and Monday evening shows were sold out; the “sneak peek” preview tickets had long since sold out.

“I feel great about the team and the board,” said Nicholas. “We are doing an in-person film festival.”

“And next year,” she said, “barring unforeseen circumstances, we will be back with another festival with all the panel discussions, workshops and parties.”

Kardish pointed to some of the films that will be screened at the end of the week that he is particularly interested to show: A film called “Flee” is an animated documentary about a refugee from Afghanistan after the first Taliban takeover. It won the Grand Prize for Documentary at Sundance.

“It’s an amazing film,” he said.

‘People are making films— that won’t stop.’

Co-Artistic Director FilmColumbia Laurence Kardish

He also noted the film “Beans” made by a young Mohawk filmmaker about a 1990 protest against the Quebec government’s proposal to build a golf course on sacred burial land.

Kardish said the festival features many local artists. “The Land of Azaba,” a story of biodiversity in a wilderness land on the border of Spain and Portugal was made by Columbia County filmmakers Greta Schiller and Andrea Weiss, who will attend the screening and be available for a question-and-answer session.

The first FilmColumbia festival was held over a single weekend in 2000. It has undergone many changes since then. For a time it was co-produced with the Columbia County Council for the Arts. It was presented in multiple venues in Chatham and Hudson, and there were screenwriting workshops, panel discussions and gala parties.

In 2010 the death of Crandell Theatre owner Tony Quirino, who rented the theater to FilmColumbia, put the future of the historic building and the festival in doubt. But donors and philanthropists rallied and raised the money to purchase the building for the Chatham Film Club. After a six-month-long silence it re-opened. Improvements were made including installation of digital projectors, a new roof, improved HVAC, and improved sound system. In 2017 the Crandell was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. And the festival continued to grow.

The theater was closed from spring 2020 until late summer 2021 due to Covid and has now reopened for regular screenings.

Sitting in the office behind the marquee Kardish and Nicholas talked about the challenges of presenting movies in public these days. “I like the new way that the theater shows many different movies in a week,” said Kardish, “rather than just one movie for two weeks.”

“There are maybe only 100 single screen movie houses like this left in the whole country,” he said.

“The Paris Theater is the only single screen theater left in Manhattan,” he added.

“They just could not be viable, except as non-profit organizations like the Chatham Film Club,” said Nicholas.

“The Crandell Board of Directors is certainly aware what a spectacular place it is.”

Regardless of the present popularity of home streaming movies, there is still an audience for movies on a big screen at a public theater.

“People are making films— that won’t stop,” Kardish said.

“Filmmakers don’t want the audience to be in control, because if you don’t have that control, it changes the experience. You become more attentive and immersed in the story.”

Talking about the 1937 Disney film “Snow White,” Kardish said that it was one of the most powerful films ever made. “These are images that inhabit you.”

“Do you think it’s something like vinyl records, which are experiencing some renewed interest lately?” asked Nicholas.

“Well, not entirely the same as the analog versus digital question,” said Kardish. “Initially I was against digital filmmaking but it has proved to have a deep clarity, and digital is much easier to work with.”

“Some filmmakers still will use film for the original image making, and then convert to digital for production,” he said.

Addressing this exact issue is the film that will close the festival, a movie called “The Village Detective: A Song Cycle,” a creative reconstruction of a decaying 35mm soviet-era film netted from the ocean by an Icelandic fishing trawler five years ago. The filmmaker responsible for this resurrection, Bill Morrison, will be present for the film’s screening. The music is provided by Pulitzer Prize winning composer David Lang.

As co-curator with Peter Biskind of films for the festival, Kardish clearly loves talking about and showing the works he’s gleaned from festivals around the world: Cannes to Berlin to Sundance and New York. He travels to all of them. But he is sworn to secrecy when it comes to the sneak preview. Suffice to say it is a major film this year and will, Kardish predicted, “almost certainly be nominated for an Oscar.”

Nicholas, a member of the Crandell Theatre Board of Directors and FilmColumbia managing director, is circumspect about upcoming improvements to the building, referring the curious to architectural drawings posted in the display window in the front of the building. The spaces on either side of the main entrance have been acquired and will become part of the expanded lobby of the theater. New staggered seats will be installed and the bathrooms will be upgraded in size and number.

One of the other upgrades will be a new screen. In 2019 there was a plan to construct a second, smaller Crandell on Depot Square in the village. But that has been set aside indefinitely, as the board sees how people go back to the movies after pandemic cautions ease.

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