Plugging yesterday’s cinema in the land of tomorrow

Peas in a podcast: (From left) Ted Cavooris, Rene Bouchard and Raj Tawney of Huntington's Cinema Arts Centre celebrate their 2017 Best Podcast award from the Press Club of Long Island.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Generations collide, in more ways than one, at Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre, a retro movie theater using a decidedly 21st century method to promote its yesteryear content.

The theater, founded in 1973 by Vic Skolnick and Charlotte Sky to promote an eclectic mix of classic, international and arthouse films, has been stoking its passion for the silver screen’s golden era in a manner befitting the Digital Age: a twice-monthly (or so) podcast featuring a spectrum of film buffs, celluloid historians and community members, all focused on the little things that make the big screen such a magical medium.

Make that “award-winning” podcast: On June 7, during its annual awards ceremony, the Press Club of Long Island graced the Cinema Arts Centre’s “What’s the Difference” production crew with Best Podcast honors, a “proud moment” for a promotional tool that’s not only been “beneficial and effective for our organization,” according to Publicity and Promotions Director Raj Tawney, but popcorn-buckets of fun.

“We interview people who have been an integral part of the cinema since its inception in 1973, plus film historians and many others who are instrumental in making this a great cultural epicenter,” said Tawney, who produces and co-hosts the podcast with Director of Development Rene Bouchard and Associate Development Director Ted Cavooris. “It’s their personal stories and historical stories about this community, and how it all ties into film.”

Tawney credited the idea for the podcast (now redubbed “Cinema Stories”) to Bouchard, who “really wanted to pursue something like this” as a way of connecting the old-school movie house with modern audiences. “Wonder Woman” may be waging a special effects-laden battle for box office supremacy with the “Guardians of the Galaxy” at your local megaplex, but when it comes to the art of film, the Cinema Arts Centre stands alone on Long Island – and to spread that word, Bouchard had to tap into modern audiences.

Enter the podcast, now 30-something episodes strong and proven effective not only for reaching WiFi-centric millennials, but older audiences who might actually remember when movies showcased human depth more than extraterrestrial invaders.

Spoiler alert: That older generation is adapting nicely to the Internet and other modern media, according to Tawney, giving “Cinema Stories” more bang for its digital buck.

“More and more, we find that older generations are increasingly engaged with new media and social media and other streaming content,” he said. “We’re finding this is a way to attract not only young people to what we’re doing, but to engage the older community, which is so tech-savvy these days.”

Whomever is tuning in, the podcasts contain “a million and one stories that come out of this cinema,” Tawney said, “from its humble beginnings to becoming a cultural mecca of Long Island.”

Now playing: The classic 1926 silent film “It’s the Old Army Game” is part of a Cinema Arts Centre special event.

Hosted by the German online audio distribution platform SoundCloud, the original episodes each kicked off with the question, “What’s the difference between seeing a move here with other members of our community and seeing a movie at home or in another setting?” That would spark film-fawning conversations between the guest cinephiles – usually Cinema Art Centre members and supporters – and the hosts.

“Cinema Stories” broadens the concept slightly but still serves the same purpose: giving Cinema Arts Centre supporters a chance to chew the celluloid, while simultaneously promoting a collection of films with nary an X-Man or Jedi knight in sight.

Some episodes feature special guests, such as the one the Cinema Arts Centre promotional team recorded Tuesday night featuring Harriett Fields, granddaughter of cinematic pioneer W.C. Fields.

Fields – a doctor of community health education, adjunct faculty member of the Massachusetts-based Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences and frequent contributor to the Turner Classic Movies network – visited on a night when the Cinema Arts Centre screened her grandfather’s 1926 silent classic, “It’s the Old Army Game.”

“She’s really wonderful,” Tawney said. “She’s a big supporter of film history and of course her grandfather’s legacy. Interviewing her is such a treat.”

To round out Tuesday night’s special event – and as a further example of the old-time theater’s willingness to embrace modern tech – the silent film was accompanied by musician Ben Model, a musician known for his performances at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art and other highbrow venues. Model performed a “live scoring” (he basically made up the music in real time as “It’s the Old Army Game” played) using what Tawney described as a computerized theater organ.

Raj Tawney: Telling stories.

“Ben is a real genius,” Tawney noted. “He’s been coming to this cinema for about 11 years now, and this is another way we’re able to use technology – to recreate the sound of a real, live silent film experience you would have had 100 years ago.

“A lot of guys were live-scoring then, only they were using big theater organs,” he added. “We now can offer a digital experience that sounds exactly the same.”

The Fields podcast should be fully engineered and posted by Friday, Tawney said, adding to a Soundcloud archive that serves as a sort of recorded history of the Cinema Arts Centre – a fairly unique benefit for what’s essentially “a live-events organization,” according to Tawney.

“There’s actually very little recorded material here,” he noted. “The podcast helps us tell these stories and preserve them, so people can enjoy them whenever they want.”

The podcasts – which themselves are promoted via clever “trailers” assembled by Bouchard and her team, combining snippets from the recorded interviews and a montage of related photos and clips, shown on the big screen prior to Cinema Arts Centre features – are definitely having what Tawney called “a positive ripple effect.”

“Filmmaking is about storytelling, and this is another way to tell these stories,” he said. “It allows people to discover us through a whole new platform, and to go where we’ve never gone before – beyond the Long Island and New York City area.

“Now, we’re hearing things like, ‘The next time we’re in the New York area, we’re going to stop by and see a movie,’” Tawney added. “That’s wild.”


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