Chatham, N.Y., Film Club looks beyond FilmColumbia Festival

CHATHAM, N.Y. — Annie Brody identifies herself as a proponent of “smaller is good.”

“I like the idea of the close-knit feeling here,” she explained, discussing her recent appointment as executive director of the Chatham Film Club, and the first person to occupy the position in the club’s 14-year history.

Previously, Brody was an administrator and consultant with experience in nonprofit and small-business program management, marketing and community service, notably for Earth Force, a youth environmental organization, and she is the founder and manager of Camp Unleashed, a seasonal weekend program in the Berkshires for dogs and their people.

Brody recalls her joy in volunteering for the first FilmColumbia festival, when she moved to the area from Manhattan.

“It was a little idea that started in 1999, of bringing some good films in,” she said, “and according to the Colum bia County Chamber of Com merce we attract the second most visitors, second only to the Colum bia County Fair.”

Brody perceives her role as coordinating the club’s various elements, all of which are revenue sources: the Crandell Theater, now owned by the club; membership revenue — the club has about 600 members; the special Sunday independent and foreign art-film screenings; and the annual festival, which is expected to attract more than 7,000 this weekend, a 17 percent increase over 2011.

“Each of these (activities) has a person, a volunteer, running it, and I’m bringing the pieces together, and in a central way to make it more efficient and easier to manage,” Brody said.

Among her goals, she added, are to increase membership and to encourage the members to feel their ownership.

“We have a lot of creative people with good ideas — a great resource for us,” she said. She also plans to create more partnerships with other community organizations and businesses — “to keep our Main Street really thriving.”

Brody is a part-time employee of the club, as are other figures, visible and invisible, at the atmospheric little movie palace — the ticket sellers and takers, concession-stand attendants, projectionists and housekeepers.

A primary task for her is the new digitalization. By the end of 2013, most distributors will cease releasing films on celluloid, and theaters, especially small independent, single-screen theaters like the Crandell, face potentially insurmountable costs for conversion.

Following this year’s festival, the Chatham Film Club will conduct an intensive campaign to raise $250,000, the total needed for the conversion, according to Brody and Peter Biskind, the festival’s executive director and vice president of the club.

“That figure includes not only the digital equipment itself, but upgrading digital sound, which is very important,” said Biskind. “We have an older audience, a lot of people who have trouble hearing the sound track.”

Brody and Biskind estimate that new projectors, capable of employing the hard drive that will be dispatched to theatres in lieu of the old, cumbersome cans of film, will cost at least $100,000, and even more if they are to be upgraded for satellite transmissions that eventually could deliver special events, such as the Live-in-HD broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, London’s National Theatre and other stages.

In addition, the Crandell’s 1926-vintage projection booth atop the balcony must be reconstructed to accommodate the new digital equipment and to retain the old 35 mm. projectors for revival cinema presentations. A new, more reflective, screen also is in the plans.

Brody said she is confident that locally-based residents who share her love for the theater have the financial capacity to make digitalization a reality.

The success of the film club is a tribute to the board and its other volunteers, said Brody: “I’ve never seen a nonprofit that was run so well by (its) volunteers.”