By Janee Law
Years ago, in a friend’s dance studio in Huntington, husband and wife Vic Skolnick and Charlotte Sky set up a 16mm film projector, which they borrowed from the Huntington Public Library. With it, they began the New Community Cinema.
“Initially there were no chairs so people had to bring their own folding chairs,” said Dylan Skolnick, son of the couple. “It filled a real need; it just kept growing.”
Today the cinema has grown to more than 10,000 members and found a more-permanent home at 423 Park Ave. where it resides as the Cinema Arts Centre.
Dylan Skolnick, whose father died six years ago, has since assumed the role of co-director of the CAC with Sky.
Back in 1973, while in the dance studio, Vic Skolnick and Sky opened what was one of Long Island’s first major art house movie theater, creating a new community for those who loved film. They showed films on Friday and Saturday nights, typically to crowds of 30-40 people who would show up with their own folding chairs, Dylan Skolnick said.
Back then “you couldn’t see any independent films or documentaries or foreign films or classic movies, you’d actually have to get on a train go to Manhattan where there was a whole bunch of repertory theaters showing classic movies and theaters that specialized showing foreign films,” Skolnick, of Huntington Station, said.
The movement soon grew into a real organization, moving twice before landing on Park Avenue in 1976. The cinema was turned in a nonprofit, and was stocked with its own equipment and chairs.
Today, at what is now the CAC, classic films, silent films and live music are still shown, but “now we’re more focused on new movies for the bulk of the program,” Skolnick said.
The CAC also has cinema for children, shows international films, documentaries and puts on a monthly special series, which this month features films based on the work of William Shakespeare, in honor of the 400th anniversary of his death.
The CAC holds three theaters, amounting to 494 seats. It also sports a Sky Room Café, allowing cinephiles the opportunity for lunch or snacks to go along with movies.
Skolnick said the CAC wants to give people “a home away from home.”
“We’re really rooted in the community in many ways,” he said, adding that the CAC shows films focused on education and other issues that interest the community. “It’s a different feeling.”
The CAC typically brings in guest speakers pertaining to the films they show, such as actors, producers, directors and cinematographers.
Films shown at the CAC are determined by the three cinema directors, as well as through audience feedback.
“We try to find a balance between great movies that must be seen, and also being responsive to the audience in what they’re looking for and what they want,” said Skolnick, who earned a bachelor’s degree in film and video from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.
The CAC is currently showing films like “Hello, My Name is Doris,” “Eye in the Sky” and “Demolition.”
“The audiences are great, wonderful people and you make a lot of connections and friendships,” said Skolnick. “You hope over time that there’s some impact, that all the films we’ve brought into Huntington have helped expand people’s universe, and how they see the world.”
Next month, the CAC will host the Huntington High School Film Festival, which will showcase films made by high school students.
For the first time, the CAC will also participate in Art House Theater Day on Sept. 24. The national event promises to offer special content to CAC audiences.
Skolnick said, “As you get deeper into the world of movies, the art of movies, the fun of movies, you get the pleasure of sharing it.”
The CAC is open to the public, but individual memberships start at $50. Discounts on memberships are available for seniors, students and those under 25 years old. Members are eligible for benefits such as discounts on tickets, discounts on special events and workshops, and discounts at local retailers and restaurants. Memberships can be purchased at the box office, or by visiting Cinemaartscentre.org.
Cinema Arts Centre
423 Park Ave., Huntington