By Janee Law
Growing up in a cultured family, with an Indian father and a mother who is of Italian and Puerto Rican descent, Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions for the Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre has respects diversity and works to bring generations together through film.
“For me the community is everything,” Tawney, 29, of Commack, said. “I’ve always been told that I bridge the gap between the two generations, the older and the younger, because I’m this young person, I’m enthusiastic, and I want to support the younger generation, but I also truly respect the older generation.”
When Tawney got the opportunity to host the cinema’s “Staff Pick” series, he selected Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 film, “Shadow of a Doubt.” Prior to the film he gave a speech to the audience, and later hosted a Q&A after the film.
“Everybody stayed, everybody was engaged, and they couldn’t believe that this 29-year-old was delivering a speech to an audience of people who probably saw the film when it first came out in the 40s,” Tawney said. “And that’s why they all call me this ‘old soul.’”
Working at the CAC since July 2015, promoting the cinema’s approximately 30 monthly events, Tawney has introduced programs like the first CAC podcast series, its first Italian cinema series, which features local film historian, Irene Eckert.
Tawney, who previously worked in radio as a host and reporter, said this skill set helps him produce the podcast, which was originally intended to promote the CAC.
For the podcast series, which started in August 2015, Tawney and Rene Bouchard, director of development, produced a 21 episode series interviewing members who have been with the cinema since it started in 1973.
“What I love about this place is it has 43 years of history and the stories that come along with it and I always loved talking to all the older folks who tell me stories of what was going on here,” he said. “So we recorded these stories and interviewed some of the most fascinating members who have been here since the beginning.”
As the podcast series was a success, helping with the cinema’s funding campaign, Tawney said they will produce another series in May, “Cinema Stories.”
Along with this, when Tawney came to the cinema, he campaigned to bring in Eckert to the theater to host an Italian cinema series.
Although Tawney said the idea didn’t take when it was presented to the cinema 10 years ago, he was persistent, bringing Eckert to host an Italian cinema series.
“We tried it out and it was a packed house for the first film in January,” Tawney said, “Now it’s become a regular series, and she has her own audience. It’s amazing to watch it grow.”
Working in the art scene since he was young, Tawney ran his own music promotions/management gig throughout college, graduating from Farmingdale State College in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in professional communications.
After college, Tawney worked for Book Revue from 2012-2013 as director of new media, interviewing authors and celebrities like Jessica Alba, Dennis Rodman and Al Roker.
From spring 2013-spring 2015, Tawney worked as public relations and media manager/videographer for the Huntington Arts Council, through which he co-ran SPARKBOOM, a program that promoted local artists and musicians.
Now working for the cinema, which is located at 423 Park Avenue, Tawney wants to continue to use the arts to bring different people together.
“When you’re sitting in a film from the 40s or 50s and you have seniors on one side of you and you have young people fascinated about watching an old film on the other side of you, it’s the most amazing thing in the world,” Tawney said. “At the end of the day, whatever your difference of opinion or lifestyle is you come in and you enjoy a movie together.
“That’s the best place I could be in my life.”