CHATHAM—FilmColumbia opens its 15th year on October 22 and runs through October 26. The Chatham-based festival will expand to a third theater in Hudson for the first time this year.
In 1999 Peter Biskind, Laurence Kardish and Calliope Nicholas took control of a loose series of film-related events run by the Columbia County Council on the Arts (CCCA), which was withdrawing funding. “It was hardly a festival,” said Mr. Kardish of the CCCA’s event.
The original intent of the organizers was to have a regionally based festival. “It started simply as a festival or an event that celebrated local and regional filmmaking talent,” said Mr. Kardish.
Mr Biskind put it in more strident terms: “We thought stupidly that we would show regional films—local films,” he said. “But there weren’t enough local films to make a film festival. So we expanded it to the Hudson Valley. But then I found myself finding really good European films or films from Asia. I certainly wasn’t going to turn down good films….The festival for the first three or four or five years was horrible,” he said before interrupting himself with a correction. “That’s an exaggeration…. We were trying to fill the screens. It takes a while to build a film festival.”
Mr. Biskind said that, as the festival expanded, the goal became to bring movies to theaters in Columbia County that would not otherwise be shown in the area—although Ms. Nicholas said that the goal has always been to “bring in the best films that we can from all the top film festivals from around the world.”
“There are a bunch of festivals in the area,” said Mr. Biskind, “but none of them have the films we have. We have a very good record of films being nominated for Oscars and winning Oscars.”
“We still show local filmmakers at the Morris,” Mr. Kardish said, referring to the Morris Memorial building on Park Row, around the corner from the historic Crandell Theatre on Main Street.
When the festival began, it only showed movies at the Crandell, which, according to Mr. Kardish, is still the main attraction. “There are simply not many cinemas like the Crandell that exist,” he said. In 2010 the Chatham Film Club bought the Crandell. According to Fred Ulrich, president of the Chatham Film Club, FilmColumbia helped raise the profile of the Film Club, which “helped build the membership base” and aided fundraising efforts when the club decided to buy the theater.
Now, after eventually expanding to the Morris Memorial, the festival will screen movies for the first time at the Hudson Lodge, also known as the Tarry-Gillette Mansion, 601 South Union Street.
“Hudson is a city which is exploding with new businesses, young people moving from Brooklyn, good restaurants, a gay community,” said Mr. Biskind. But, he continued, the city is “under-served” in terms of movie venues. “We were inhibited by the fact that there was no obvious place” for the festival to show movies.
TSL Warehouse on Columbia Street regularly screens films, but nearest two commercial movie theaters are outside city limits in Greenport.
“Hudson is the county seat, and we felt that this would make it a countywide film festival,” said Ms. Nicholas. “But,” she added, “Chatham is our base.”
Last year the festival sold around 7,000 tickets. Online ticket sales for this year have already exceeded that number, according to Ms. Nicholas. Despite its expansion Film Columbia is still, according to Mr. Kardish, “a festival for dedicated filmgoers…. We don’t have a red carpet. We don’t have celebrities. But we have a spectacular selection of films.”