Arthouse Confidential: Cinema Vérité at Upstate Films

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One summer weekend about 10 years ago, a friend and I were visiting a couple we knew in upstate New York. We wanted to catch a movie before we headed back to New York City that Sunday afternoon, so we asked what the options were. Our friends mentioned the local multiplex, but suggested that if we were interested in checking out some independent fare at a really great theater, we should try Upstate Films, across the river in Rhinebeck. So over the Rhinecliff bridge we went (enjoying a spectacular, panoramic view of the Hudson along the way), into the terminally charming town of Rhinebeck. There lies the Upstate, with two screening rooms, comfy seats, good projection and great snacks — including local brownies and apple cider — a winning combination, and a truly satisfying way to see a film.
Upstate Films, Rhinebeck, NY (courtesy james.graham8390/flickr)Oh, and the films! We saw a quirky Scandinavian movie called Smilla’s Sense of Snow. I remember enjoying the contrast between warm, verdant Rhinebeck, and cold, snowy Copenhagen — a delicious disconnect indeed. The film had that hand-picked quality, and just sitting in the theater, I knew that I was in the hands of people who really love film.

Upstate Films was founded in 1972 as a non-profit, and like many arthouse cinemas, it’s run by people who are passionate about movies — their primary interest is sharing their love for the aesthetic and social experience of cinema rather than making a profit. It’s a commitment that shows to this day in their programming sensibilities.
I was just glancing over the most recent Upstate film calendar, which, as usual, is chock-full of A-list arthouse fare, including a slate of quality docs. The current program has an especially impressive roster of really fun nonfiction: Aaron Wolf‘s King Corn, a folksy buddy movie about two recent college grads who find out what it’s like to sow an acre of corn; Ben NilesNote by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037, an engaging look at what may be a dying art: handmade pianos and Jim Brown‘s great biopic, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. Not too shabby!
Upstate’s proximity to New York (a pleasant two-hour drive north on the Taconic Parkway), reputation for quality and a convivial atmosphere help the theater draw not only fine films, but filmmakers and stars, as well. Ralph Nader was present for a discussion following Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan’s An Unreasonable Man (recently broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens series).
All this got me to thinking what a precious — and precarious — resource arthouse cinemas are, and we at the P.O.V Blog wanted to show the love with a series of posts on great arthouse theaters around the country, the films they show and the people behind them. I’ll be profiling a number of local independent cinemas over the next few months here.
Is there a great (or lousy) arthouse theater in your town? Do you have a memory of seeing a great doc (or fiction film) there? We’d love to hear about it! Post a comment here.

David Nanasi
David Nanasi
David has worked on POV's website since its infancy, helping to develop and nurture it, as well as producing special features. David also oversees and administers POV's internal network, maintaining hardware and software for the POV staff. Prior to joining POV, David, served on the staff of CyberEd, an 18-wheeler Internet classroom that toured nationwide. Since 1997, David has worked independently as a computer consultant, including systems, networks, databases, and web design and construction. David's favorite documentaries are: 1. Eyes on the Prize - Henry Hampton (Executive Producer) 2. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 3. The Thin Blue Line - Errol Morris 4. Roger & Me - Michael Moore 5. The Camden 28 - Anthony Giacchino
  • Theresa

    FOREIGNID: 15404
    When I lived in Boston in the early 90s, before I had cable or Netflix, the Brattle Theater in Cambridge was my go-to destination for great indie film. I just visited their site, and thankfully, it looks like they are still going strong:
    These days here in SF, there are several indie cinemas that I visit regularly, including the Red Vic Theatre (walking distance from my apartment!), the Roxie and the Castro. I’ve heard gossip around town that despite it’s recent renovation, the Castro was going through some budget woes, so I’m planning to visit more often. And you should, too!!

  • Dana

    FOREIGNID: 15405
    I grew up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania…and the thing I miss most about that small town is the County Theater:
    With its two tiny theaters, it has been the main attraction of my town since 1938. Even though there’s a giant multiplex less than a mile away, the County keeps its loyal customers because of its unique taste in original films. I moved away three years ago and I STILL have a membership there. It sounds a lot like Upstate Films…including comfy seats and local snacks.

  • Michael Mohapp

    FOREIGNID: 15406
    For anyone in the Bucks County, PA area, I’d seriously recommend the County Theater in Doylestown.  They always show great films, ranging from documentaries to foreign films to sundance favorites.  I recently saw Black Book there, and was glad I had a chance to see such a great movie, as none of the other theater’s around town were showing it.

  • Simon iKilmurry

    FOREIGNID: 15407
    The GFT! The Glasgow Film Theatre – such an oasis from the general dreck elsewhere –

  • Catherine

    FOREIGNID: 15408
    When I lived in Durham, NC, I loved going to the Carolina Theater — they always had a great lineup of foreign, independent, and documentary films. And the theater is a beautiful piece of historic Durham. It’s definitely worth visiting if you’re in the Triangle area.