Updated in September 2017
A Brief Narrative of Recent Film Society History
Since opening the Film Center in September of 2012, the Film Society annually has shown over 200 feature films to more than 50,000 patrons. The Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival just completed its 12th year. With over 2,700 tickets sold, the 12th edition of the MVIFF boasts the highest attendance numbers in MVIFF history. Additionally, the Film Society produces four other festivals throughout the year, including SPECTRUM Film Festival (LGBTQ+S) in April, Nature as Inspiration Environmental Festival in May, FILMUSIC Festival in June, and its Documentary Week in August.
In 2015 the Film Society partnered with the Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation to embark upon a difficult but necessary project for not only the Film Society members, but for the Island community as a whole. The Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven (opened in 1913) and at The Strand Theater in Oak Bluffs (opened in 1915) had fallen into disrepair. The Capawock could only be used sparingly and the Strand had been shutdown completely for several years. In early 2015 Mark Snider and the Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation came to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society with a proposal: They had negotiated a 20 year lease for the Capawock and Strand Theaters and extensive renovations were in the works. Their proposal: Would we be willing to operate the theaters once they opened? The Film Society proudly accepted the proposal and determined the re-opening dates. The Capawock opened on May 29th, 2015 and The Strand Theater on June 20th. Carly Simon and family performed to a packed house at the Capawock Opening Ceremony and a large crowd welcomed the Strand back to working order during a screening of JAWS! (filmed right here on Martha’s Vineyard) on the year of its 40th anniversary.
Today, the Film Center is still reserved for ‘Art House’ style films and live performances, while The Capawock and Strand Theaters are primarily reserved for commercial, blockbuster style films. By adding these two theaters to the Film Society’s network, the Film Society is now more capable than ever to offer an enriched film program to the Island community.
Beginnings: A Nomadic Existence
In its first year (1999), the programming of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society consisted of a weekly summer’s night screening of a classic film, using 16mm projectors, at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. By 2002 our programming had grown to weekly programs at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, with supplemental screenings at venues across the Island, including the historic Tabernacle, Union Chapel, Vineyard Playhouse, Capawock Theatre, MV Hebrew Center, and outdoor screenings at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. Since these early nomadic years, the Film Society has grown from the dream of a handful of volunteers, to a vibrant, year-round cultural organization with over 2000 members. After turning down the lights for the first film in 1999, we have shown over 900 feature length and short films that otherwise would not have been shown and enjoyed on the Island. Even though the enormous number of films we have shown is an achievement in and of itself, Film Society’s greatest achievement is the annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival in September. In these so-called nomadic years the Film Society built an enthusiastic audience, however lacked an essential asset to the success it has been able to achieve today. In order to grow, the Film Society needed to find itself a permanent home.
The Film Society Finds its ‘Center’
Despite steady expansion and growing success, the MVFS had one constant struggle— technical and artistic limitations imposed by less-than-perfect screening venues and the lack of a dedicated home in which our programming could expand even further. While the lovely Katharine Cornell Theatre was usually (but not always) available in the off-season, it still required us to temporarily set up a projector and sound system for each show. Even then it was not possible to project the highest quality image, or to deliver stereo sound. This past system of ever-changing venues also prevented us from using DCI (Digital Cinema) equipment that would allow us to bring to the Island the latest ‘Art House’ films that open in limited release in major cities. In short, the lack of a permanent home deprived our viewers of the first-class experience they deserve and should expect.
In 2012 we were able to establish just that, a permanent home for the MVFS. Our new home, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, enabled us to purchase not only a permanent DCI projector to install within the Marilyn Meyerhoff Theatre, but also to install surround-sound in a comfortable climate-controlled environment with stadium seating. Most importantly, perhaps, we’ve been able to show several different movies each week, with multiple screenings of the most popular movies. We have also expanded our current outreach efforts with other Island non-profit agencies, as well as schools and local filmmakers, by programming specialty films and events for them.
This opportunity was, in many ways, thanks to Sam Dunn, the architect and developer of the Tisbury Marketplace. He contacted the Film Society in June 2011 with an offer to lease long-term (20 years with a buy-out option) a building his company would design and build specifically for the Film Society. Located on the last remaining commercial lot at the Tisbury Marketplace in Vineyard Haven, the builders Carpentry & Co., working with Mr. Dunn, were able to build the entire center in just four months! We were operational by the time the opening night of the 2012 MV International Film Festival rolled around.
The Tisbury Marketplace is a vibrant, mixed-use commercial center, with restaurants, offices, and retail tenants. This affords film-goers a lot of on-site parking in the evening and is an easy walk to downtown Vineyard Haven and the Steamship Authority, making it is easily accessible from all of the towns on the Vineyard via public transportation. In short, the Film Society had found its ‘Center.’
Our vision was to establish the Film Center to screen “first-run” independent films, documentaries, and foreign language films; all while reinstating our retrospective classic film night (just like the one we ran out of the Grange Hall in West Tisbury back in 1999). The Film Society has continued to collaborate with other Island non-profits to screen films that have special applicability to Martha’s Vineyard, such as the arts, music, education, farming, social services, and the environment. The Film Center is flexible enough to provide space (it has a stage) for speakers, panels, and Q&A after our screenings. We also have a comfortable lobby area with “adult friendly” concessions for pre-show and post-show relaxation and discussion. Truly, then, the Film Society has found a place more than worthy to house Island audiences and further fulfill the organization’s mission.
Founder/Executive Director: Richard Paradise
We would also like to recognize some of the other theaters and community spaces that have housed MV Film Society programming over the past 15 years:
The Film Society has, from time to time, screened special film offerings at the historic Capawock Theatre, such as several screenings to sell-out crowds of the locally produced MOW CREW. The Capawock is also used each year for the MV International Film Festival. Built in 1913, the Capawock is the oldest continually operated movie theatre in the state of Massachusetts. It is located prominently on Main Street in the center of the village of Vineyard Haven.
The MV Film Society screened films year-round from 2002 to 2012 at the historic Katharine Cornell Theatre on Spring Street, Vineyard Haven (one block up from Main Street). Built in the 1800’s, it was restored in 1970 with a generous donation from the Peter Cornell Trust. The theatre seats 125, and is able to employ two 16mm or digital projections.
The Union Chapel was home to our 2011 and 2012 Tuesday night summer film series. Union Chapel was established in 1870 (located at 55 Narragansett Avenue, Oak Bluffs). Built as a non-sectarian place of worship in 1870, Union Chapel’s unique octagonal design rises into a soaring open cupola with amber diamond-pane glass windows casting a warm and beautiful light. Historically known for its excellent acoustics, Union Chapel has long been a favorite venue for concerts, recitals, political meetings, speakers and wedding ceremonies. The Trust acquired the Chapel from the Oak Bluffs Christian Union in 2002.
The Summer Film Series at the historic Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs ran from 2006 to 2010. The Tabernacle is located within the MV Camp Meeting Grounds (Cottage City). There are several access points from Circuit Avenue downtown, and from Duke Country Road. In 2008, The Tabernacle was the sight of the Island’s largest audience screening of a film — when more than 1000 individuals attended the premiere of Victoria Campbell’s HOUSE OF BONES at the Tabernacle.
Our Outdoor Film series ran from 2004 to 2006 at the Featherstone Center for the Arts, Barnes Road, in Oak Bluffs. Patrons watched mostly sci-fi classics while sitting on beach chairs or blankets and eating snacks. A fun evening of outdoor- movie-watching under the stars.
The Grange Hall in West Tisbury was our very first home, where, during the summers of 1999-2006, we ran the Movie Museum, a 12 week series of classic films on Thursday nights. Employing 16mm projectors and film, this is where it all started!