UPDATE JUNE 2015
Since opening the Film Center in September of 2012, the Film Society annually shows over 200 feature films to more than 50,000 patrons. The scope of the MV International Film Festival has increased as the festival approaches its 12 year anniversary, and the Spectrum Film Festival (LGBTQ+) in April, the Environmental Film Festival (May), FILMusic Festival (June), and Documentary Week (August) were added to meet the increasing demands of Island moviegoers for specialty films and themes. Despite this tremendous success, the Film Society felt it could do more to honor the historical tradition of moviegoing on the Island, which has its vestiges at The Capawock in Vineyard Haven (opened in 1913) and at The Strand Theater (opened in 1915) in Oak Bluffs. Sadly, these two theaters were beginning to fall into disrepair and their respective futures as movie theaters was seriously in jeopardy. Then, opportunity arose. 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, would we be willing to operate the theaters once they opened? The Film Society proudly accepted the proposal and the opening dates were fast approaching, with The Capawock set to open on May 29th and The Strand Theater on June 20th (The 40th anniversary of JAWS!). On opening night at The Capawock, Carly Simon and family performed to a packed house as the theater, which is now equipped for movies, live performances, and lecture series, was reopened with resounding applause. The Strand Theater is soon to follow.
Today, the Film Center is still reserved for ‘Art House’ style films, 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. Our programming grew to regular weekly programs at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in 2002, with supplemental screenings at venues across the Island, including: the historic Tabernacle, Union Chapel, Vineyard Playhouse, Capawock Theatre, MV Hebrew Center, and outdoors at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. Since these early nomadic years, the MVFS has grown from the dream of a handful of volunteers, to a vibrant, year-round cultural organization with over 1900 members. After turning down the lights for the first film in 1999, we have shown over 800 feature length and short films that otherwise would not have been shown and enjoyed on the Island. Even though the enormous amount films the MVFS has shown–films that otherwise would not have been shown and enjoyed on the Island–is an achievement in and of itself, perhaps the MVFS’s greatest achievement is the annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival. Celebrating its 12th Anniversary this fall, the festival takes place over six days each September and draws thousands of filmgoers from on and off the Island. For the Film Society to continue to grow, however, the nomadic existence would have to come to an end, as the Film Society needed to drop anchor and find itself a permanent home.
Land Ho! 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 a permanent DCI projector to install within the Marilyn Meyerhoff Theatre, but also 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, who also renovated the Woodland Market a few years ago. He contacted MVFS 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 MVFS. 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 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 (over 135 spaces). It’s an easy walk to downtown Vineyard Haven and the Steamship Authority, and is easily accessible from all of the towns on the Vineyard via public transportation. It’s a perfect location for the MV Film 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 MVFS 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 MVFS 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!