Small-Town Festival Focuses On Films, Not Stars Movie buffs don't have to travel to the south of France to get a film festival fix. Small towns across the country have launched down-to-earth offerings and film festivals for the rest of us.
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Small-Town Festival Focuses On Films, Not Stars

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Small-Town Festival Focuses On Films, Not Stars

Small-Town Festival Focuses On Films, Not Stars

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When people think about film festivals, they typically conjure up Cannes, Sundance, maybe Toronto. But you don't have to travel to the South of France or Ontario, for that matter, to see a film festival. Small towns across the United States have launched their own down-to-earth festivals. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston visits Chatham, New York. Over the past 10 years, they've held a film festival for the rest of us.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Main Street in Chatham, New York, is just a block long, and it's anchored by the Crandell, a single-screen movie theater announced by an old-style lighted marquee. When it was built in 1926, it was originally envisioned as a vaudeville theater. Now it's the sun around which Film Columbia, Chatham's yearly film festival, revolves.

(Soundbite of girls scouts selling cookies)

Unidentified Girl Scout: These are oatmeal molasses.

TEMPLE-RASTON: It's about 20 minutes before one of the screenings. Outside the theater there are no limos, no red carpets, no stars. Instead, there's a small number of local girl scouts, and they're selling cookies to help pay for a camping trip.

(Soundbite of girls scouts selling cookies)

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, my gosh. This looks wonderful.

Unidentified Girl Scout: Everything is 50 cents.

Unidentified Woman #1: Everything is 50 cents. What a good deal this is.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Ever-supportive residents are buying sweets hand-over-fist. They stash them in coat pockets and file into the Crandell. Another line forms at the concession stand inside.

Unidentified Woman #2: Can I have a small popcorn and a water?

Unidentified Cashier: $2.50.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's right. A buttered popcorn and a bottle of water for $2.50. This is a different kind of film festival. And while the atmosphere may seem down home or even quaint, the movies here are neither. "Brokeback Mountain," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Atonement," they all premiered here. Marge Lewis and Heather Spitzer, two Film Columbia devotees, explain why.

Ms. MARGE LEWIS: This is the kind of a town that people come out of the woodwork here.

Ms. HEATHER SPITZER: Yeah, they do.

Ms. LEWISIMON: And it's, you know...

Ms. SPITZER: There's a lot of people that are involved in the arts who have a second home here or live here. And they...

Ms. LEWISIMON: It's very private.

Ms. SPITZER: Yeah, that's right. And so they have a lot of resources to be able to develop, you know, a festival such as this.

Ms. LEWISIMON: You know, and that's what does it. I mean, you try it on your own and you can't get these first runs. But there are people here who make them.

TEMPLE-RASTON: People like James Schamus. He's the head of Focus Features. He has a house in Hillsdale not far from Chatham. He usually provides the festival's Saturday night sneak preview. And then there's also Peter Biskind, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and former editor of Premiere Magazine.

Mr. PETER BISKIND (Contributing Editor, Vanity Fair): This festival is kind of anti-glamour, you know, and anti-celebrity.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He's one of the forces behind the film festival and seems genuinely pleased about its relative obscurity.

Mr. BISKIND: There are no limousines here. Virtually no celebrities or no filmmakers ever show up. The way it's ended up, the focus is on the films and on the people, you know, the small town atmosphere.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And perhaps no one represents that small town flavor more than Tony Quirino, the owner of the Crandell Theater. He's standing in a projection room. Two projectors, unassuming suitcase-sized boxes aimed at the screen at the front of the theater, take up most of the room. The rest of it is filled to bursting with oversized metal film reels. They are leaning against walls and stacked on the floor. Quirino was previewing the new Film Columbia animated trailer. Quirino is a crusty fellow with a salt-and-pepper mustache and silver hair combed back off his forehead.

Mr. TONY QUIRINO (Owner, Crandell Theater): I've been around here all my life. My father started hanging around here when he was about nine years old, fooling around. And then he went into the service, and when he got out in the '50s, he was the manager. Then he actually bought it, I think in 1961, around there.

TEMPLE-RASTON: As Quirino tells his father's story, it started to remind me of the movie "Cinema Paradiso" in which a young boy's life revolved around a movie theater.

(Soundbite of music from "Cinema Paradiso")

Mr. QUIRINO: I saw that movie. That's my father right there. That's my father big time, yeah.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The comparison clearly struck a chord with Quirino. In many ways, the movie is as much about Tony as it is about his father. Tony Quirino haunted the Crandell as a boy. His father taught him how to splice reels of film together and how to run the projector. And when his father retired in 1985, it seemed only natural that his son would buy the place. Since then, Quirino has gone to great lengths to run the theater just like his dad did. Tickets are discounted. Candy is inexpensive. So the Chatham film festival is a big deal for the Crandell. It helps Quirino keep it open.

Mr. QUIRINO: And it brings a lot of people into town. And I think the whole town flourishes off it. So it makes for a real good week for me.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So, this is like Christmas for the Crandell Theater.

Mr. QUIRINO: Well, sure, yeah. It's like Christmas for the town, I think.

TEMPLE-RASTON: This year's films included "I've Loved You So Long" with Kristen Scott Thomas and "The Secret Life of Bees" with Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah. The 500 seats at the Crandell were sold out all weekend. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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