Upstate Films opened in May of 1972 as a single-screen non-profit cinema staffed by its three founders. We launched our program in 16mm showing an eclectic mix of classic Hollywood and foreign films reflecting a wide-ranging diversity of themes, styles, countries, eras. Upstate joined Fosters, the Beekman Arms, the Dutchess County Fair, the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, as a local attraction. Soon Upstate began to find and foster an audience interested in supporting an alternative to mainstream cinema. Upstate came of age so to speak along with the “independent” film movement screening sought-after indie features and documentaries along with films that were rarely screened in this country, much less in a semi-rural area.
Over the decades, Upstate has shown thousands of films and hosted hundreds of filmmakers and critics, on its way to becoming a critically-acclaimed destination itself. Random highlights include New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, who in the 1970s, discussed a classic Preston Sturges’ comedy, The Lady Eve with our audience. Almost a decade later, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory performed their play My Dinner with Andre to rapt audiences. (Soon after these performances, French director Louis Malle made the popular film version.) Visionary artists such as Jonathan Demme, Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, John Sayles, Todd Haynes, John Patrick Shanley, Errol Morris, Jim Jarmusch, and Debra Granik visited and shared their work and passion at various points in their careers. (See Guest Speakers.)
Just as important as bringing renowned and emerging artists to our community, Upstate serves as a public forum—having hosted speakers such as consumer activist Ralph Nader and United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter. Upstate Films cooperates with many and varied community organizations to address topics of local interest, from fracking to farming, to local history to Lyme disease. These programs are often offered free of charge to help reinforce our mission and introduce our theaters to new audience members.
Supporting education is part of our mission. Upstate hosts filmmaking workshops for students in conjunction with Spark Media. During the school year, Upstate works with teachers at the F.D. Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park, NY in an ongoing advanced placement course – A Documentary Approach to History & Literature that began in 1987.
Upstate has also had a hand in bringing worthy films to the attention of the public having co-distributed Anchoress, an elegant medieval drama from the U.K., the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Weather Underground, Sweden’s stunning fable about loss and rebirth, Under the Sun, and local filmmaker Ralph Arlyck’s Emmy-nominated Following Sean. In the early ‘80s, Upstate sponsored The American New Wave series, and in the mid-1980s programmed Hudson Valley Film Festivals focusing on films by makers from the region, about the region, or set in the Hudson Valley. In the ‘90s, in collaboration with other arts organizations, Upstate helped create a festival that focused on the screenwriter’s contribution to cinema art, and in 2000, Upstate presented a festival of films inspired by Shakespeare.
Over the decades, we’ve expanded our physical footprint. In 1999, we built and opened our second small theater at our Rhinebeck location to help us survive competition from a glut of multiplexes. We welcomed all the generous contributions and support from our public who helped make this expansion possible. In winter 2010 we leased Woodstock’s single screen cinema, in part, to save it from extinction. And along the way, to deliver powerful images and sound we’ve embraced new technology making upgrades to our projection and sound equipment moving from 16 to 35mm, from mono to stereo sound, adding video capability, and in 2013, with support from our audience, we made the transition to the film industry-mandated change to digital projection and sound.
Upstate Films, is both an economic anchor and a cultural magnet, contributing to our communities’ vitality and uniqueness. The 75,000-plus filmgoers who attend our cinemas annually patronize local merchants before and after the show. Upstate’s pioneering spirit encouraged other arts groups, including The Rhinebeck Chamber Music Society, the Cocoon Theater, and the Rhinebeck Performing Arts Center to locate in the area. In the face of stay-at-home, privatizing innovations, Upstate delivers a public experience. It is a place to experience the variety of larger-than-life international cinema where, sitting with one’s friends and fellow moviegoers, we share entrée into new worlds, experiences, and cultures. Our programming on both sides of the Hudson, in Rhinebeck as well as Woodstock, explores and highlights important social realities, cultural phenomena, and aesthetic movements, and enriches our audiences’ lives. For Upstate, film has always been more than passive escapism; it is an art that benefits from being experienced with others.