The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society marks its 20th anniversary this year, and celebrations are in order. There are new film festivals on the calendar, and a lofty capital campaign getting underway, with the ultimate goal of purchasing the current home of the M.V. Film Center from its longtime landlord, developer Sam Dunn.
The M.V. Film Society began in 1999 with weekly summertime screenings at the Grange Hall. Then they moved on to showing films at the Katharine Cornell Theater, the Tabernacle, Featherstone Center for the Arts, the M.V. Playhouse, and other Island venues. Richard Paradise, founder and executive director of the M.V. Film Society, calls those early days “nomadic.”
“Now that the Film Society has evolved to the point that we have such great assets … three cinemas, with the Film Center our flagship, we have the capacity to really broaden our scope of programming, and that always starts with our community in mind,” Paradise says. The M.V. Film Society has added the historic Strand (Oak Bluffs) and Capawock (Vineyard Haven) theaters as its new film venues.
One area that has developed over the years is the multiple film festivals and special events that take place annually: the LGBTQ Festival, the Environmental Film Festival, the FilmMusic Festival, the International Film Festival, and the popular Doc Week and the Met Live Opera Series among them. Paradise says the Film Center added two new festivals this year: the Refugee & Migrant Film Festival, held the weekend of July 26-28, and the Women in Film Festival, coming up the weekend of Oct. 25-27, celebrating films directed, written, or produced by women. And we can’t forget the weekly summer screenings of “Jaws” at the Capawock on Fridays.
The Film Society is a labor of love, and clearly Paradise’s passion; that’s obvious by his familiar introductions to the films screening at the Film Center. An Eagle Scout when he was a kid growing up outside New York City, and now head of a nonprofit that has taken off spectacularly, these days Paradise is thinking about the future of the Film Society and what that might look like.
The organization has grown from those summer screenings at the Grange Hall into an organization with more than 2,500 members and an annual budget of over a million dollars, with 80 percent of that coming from ticket sales, concessions, sponsorships, and memberships, and the remainder produced by donations and grants. Paradise said that they’ve never had to borrow money, and operate as a “pretty sustainable” entity. The society rents its current location from Dunn, who was instrumental in getting the building up and running back in 2012.
“Mr. Dunn still owns the building, and he was the major driving force in getting it built,” Paradise says. “He designed and engineered the building and worked with general contractors, and we got it built in four months, which is a miracle. We have to give most of the credit to Mr. Dunn for making that happen. He’s been a great landlord, and I think he’d like us to own it.”
The 20th anniversary seems like a fitting time to move forward, Paradise said. “The ultimate goal to purchase the Film Center building, to have ownership of our own building, is important,” he told the Times when we first talked to him about the anniversary a few months ago.
“When you’re doing performances — film, dance, or theater — you have more stability when you own your own facility,” Paradise said. “There’s a celebratory aspect right now, and we’re looking forward to the next 20 years and where the Film Society goes from here.”
He explained that the projection and audio equipment used at the theaters typically starts deteriorating after 10 years of use, so it will have to be replaced and/or upgraded within a few years as well. And there’s no indication that the year-round programming offered by the Film Society will decrease; in fact, it will likely increase in the future, according to Paradise.
He said there’s a “never a perfect time” to launch a capital campaign, especially in a community that already supports numerous nonprofits. However, recognizing the 20 years of entertainment and community engagement that the Film Society has brought to the Island seems like a good time to talk about the future, he said.
“Who knows when I’ll retire,” Paradise laughed. “I’m only 61, so I’m not thinking about it soon. But, at some point, I will walk away, and I want to make sure the Film Society outlives me and remains sustainable, whoever is working then, that they know going into the future that they’ll be on safe ground with no problems left for them. That’s my goal for the next year, that when I’m gone from the Island … from the earth … you know when you put your heart and soul into something for 20 years, you want to make sure it’s going to be around for a while.”
The M.V. Film Center is located in the Tisbury Marketplace on Beach Road. Visit mvfilmsociety.com to find out more about the Film Society and what’s happening next.