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.
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 Niles‘ Note 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.