Film : A passion for movies, and community
"I'm a bit of a showman," Richard Paradise says as he sits at the edge of his chair, hands gesturing. "I could just invite a few people over to my house, but I'd rather invite 100 over to a theater to watch a film together."
Gathering people together is at the heart of Mr. Paradise's passion for movies. He loves the stories, and the plot twists, the stars, but what he enjoys most is the communal act of coming together, watching, and discussing film. As founder and co-director of the Martha's Vineyard Film Society (MVFS), he has found a way to accomplish this.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
"Film as an entertainment media lends itself to watching it in a group," he says. "When you're laughing or crying during a film, there is something magical about people around you going through that together. You're going on that journey together. Then when the lights come up, you see everyone and I think then there is an opportunity to engage and discuss what you just saw. That is where it becomes a community event." Back in the days of the flickering 16mm projector, Mr. Paradise, a student at a small Wisconsin college, became the campus film programmer, and began choosing the movies that were shown each night in the student union. He remembers it as a great way to meet people.
When he moved to Martha's Vineyard with his family in 1998, he again turned to movies, showing classic films at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. "It was a great way to connect with the Martha's Vineyard community."
The weekly offerings soon grew into something more, and Mr. Paradise became the protagonist in founding MVFS.
Movies are now shown year-round in Vineyard Haven at the Katharine Cornell Theatre and every September the society hosts the Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival, a showcase of contemporary, independent foreign films and documentaries.
"These are films not often carried by commercial theaters," Mr. Paradise explained. "Communities of a certain size used to operate what was known as an art house theater, where independent, avant-garde films were shown. Most of these small theaters have vanished from America's cultural mise-en-scène, replaced by Netflix, Cable television, and film festivals.
With the help of nearly 50 dedicated volunteers, the nonprofit film society is able to carry out Mr. Paradise's mission. "It's not a business; it's a passion," says Mr. Paradise. "The film society is there to entertain and inspire, and to educate from time to time. It's like running an art theater house without the house."
Over the years, the film society has hosted movie screenings to raise money for other Island nonprofits and bring awareness to issues affecting the community. Often there is discussion and interaction after the film, sometimes facilitated by Mr. Paradise, who has been known to bring filmmakers, directors and even doctors and nurses to talk following a film. This is not a traditional movie going experience. Certainly not what would be offered at a 12-screen megaplex.
Still, the MVFS "flagship," as Mr. Paradise terms it, is the International Film Festival held the weekend after Labor Day. Along with festival co-director, Nevette Previd, Mr. Paradise chooses the films he enjoys, although he admits his favorite movie is always the last one he's seen.
Mr. Paradise responds best to movies that provide a window to another culture, no period pieces, no propaganda. All the movies shown during the festival are foreign features or documentaries, or those filmed in other countries - his way of enlarging the community to offer an intimate look at other cultures, and to create understanding.
After a brief break over the holidays, MVFS films start up again tomorrow.
MVFS films start at 7:30 pm, doors open at 7. Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring St., Vineyard Haven. $8, $5 for MVFS members. Visit mvfilmsociety.com.
Friday, Jan. 9: "Encounters at the End of the World,". Werner Herzog takes his camera to Antarctica filming men and women who have dedicated their lives to furthering the cause of science in treacherous conditions.
Friday, Jan. 16: "Kebab Connection," Action, romance, and comedy all combined with great camera work. Cited as one of the best German comedies in recent years.
February films have not yet been announced.
Justen Ahren is a poet and freelance writer living in Tisbury.