If necessity is the mother of invention, can it be said that success is the nurturer of continuation? The Hudson Valley Picture Show, Upstate Films’ traveling showcase, was born out of the necessity of a pandemic in the summer of 2021. While commercial chain cinemas had already begun reopening the previous autumn at 25 percent seating capacity, small not-for-profit art houses couldn’t operate at that level — nor did most of them have the financial wherewithal to upgrade or replace their ventilation systems. For their part, audiences were still wary of congregating in enclosed public spaces, and had grown accustomed to streaming new movie releases at home. So, the only thing to do was to bring the art films to the audience, in open outdoor spaces.
As the second year of COVID got underway, two new co-directors were hired by Upstate Films to take the reins from founders Steve and DeDe Leiber and Susan Goldman. One of the first things that Paul Sturtz and Jason Silverman did in early 2021 was to acquire a state-of-the-art portable digital projection and sound system with a 24-foot inflatable screen and “really sweet-sounding speakers,” in Sturtz’s words. They spent last summer taking it around to a variety of local outdoor gathering places, including arts venues such as Opus 40 and the Maverick, to provide screenings under the stars, preceded by live music.
It took some time to work all the kinks out of the project, such as long setup times and a van that broke down. Still, the experiment was enough of a hit to bring the Hudson Valley Picture Show back for 2022, as part of the ongoing celebration of Upstate Films’ 50th anniversary — even though movie theaters are once again able to operate at full seating capacity.
Both Sturtz and Silverman have deep histories in community revitalization (https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2021/05/13/upstate-films-new-co-directors-have-big-plans-for-big-screens). Their personal priorities include bringing films to the people closer to where they live, and they added “connecting the Hudson Valley through transformative cinematic experiences” to the organization’s mission statement.
“We share in the belief that movies can be a powerful way to connect people, to inspire people, to create conversations about important issues,” Silverman told HV1 last year. “We want to use the spaces and the films we love to do that work. Collaborations are a key part of that. Intensive and ongoing partnerships are going to be an essential part of what we do.”
So, not only is the Hudson Valley Picture Show returning to sites it visited in its first summer of operation — it presented Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Dazed and Confused at Opus 40 on its 2021 opening weekend — but it’s also adding new ones. Some of them are quite a bit further afield from Upstate’s Rhinebeck and Saugerties homes, such as Olana in Hudson and the School in Kinderhook. “We see ourselves as serving the entire area,” says Sturtz. “This is a fun way for us to reach different parts of the mid-Hudson Valley, partner with other arts organizations and expand our audience.”
The Community Theater in Catskill is a particularly good example, as the former vaudeville venue is opening its doors to the public this summer for the first time since COVID struck. Unlike its acquisition of the Orpheum in Saugerties last year, Upstate in this case is able to contribute to the reopening process “without having to fix up the building,” Sturtz notes. “It’s a lower-touch way to expand the Upstate Films banner.” The Community Theater is set to host four Hudson Valley Picture Show screenings, beginning with the music documentary Prince: Sign ‘o’ the Times on Friday, August 5. As with the outdoor venues, a live musical guest will perform before the show.
The choice of fare is influenced in part by the setting, with the acoustics of outdoor spaces being less friendly to dialogue-heavy art films than inside an intimate cinema. Thus, there are bound to be more popular crowd-pleasers on the bill than you’d find in a typical summer at Upstate: Alien, The Big Lebowski, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an eclectic variety of offerings in store. The programmers are also thinking in terms of matching the subject matter, country of origin or historical setting of the movie to the host site. On Friday, August 19, for instance, Frederic Church’s faux-Moorish architecture at the Olana State Historic Site will provide an appropriate backdrop to Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 animated feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which uses cardboard cutout silhouettes to tell a fairytale derived from the One Thousand and One Nights. Timing will also affect the type of programming, with the Community Theater presenting The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari just a few nights before Halloween, on October 28.
Next up on this month’s schedule are the action thriller Speed at Del’s Roadside in Rhinebeck this Friday, July 8, and a new animated feature, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, at the Old Dutch Church in Uptown Kingston on Saturday, July 16. Wes Anderson’s charmingly quirky Moonrise Kingdom (https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2012/07/18/downbeat-deadpan-and-delightful) will screen at the School in Kinderhook on Friday, July 22; and “Miracles on Montgomery: Highlights from Upstate Films’ First 50 Years” will be presented on the lawn of the Starr Library in Rhinebeck on Friday, July 29. The last two programs mentioned have free admission.
For the full Hudson Valley Picture Show schedule, more information about the films and venues and to purchase tickets, visit www.upstatefilms.org/hudson-valley-picture-show.