If it takes a village to sustain a community, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society’s founder/executive director Richard Paradise is one of our most dedicated citizens. Under his leadership, he has turned a fledgling organization into one of the Island’s very significant resources.
The film society began in 1999 when they held weekly summer night screenings of a classic film at the Grange Hall. Soon they became nomads and, by 2002, their programming had grown to weekly offerings at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, with supplemental showings at venues across the Island, including the Tabernacle, Union Chapel, Vineyard Playhouse, Capawock Theatre, Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, and outdoor screenings at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. On September 4, 2012, they realized their dream, opening a state-of-the-art film center that screens first-run independent films, documentaries, and foreign language films as well as reinstating their retrospective classic film night.
However, even before the big opening, meaningful community collaborations were essential. Paradise says, “They definitely pre-date the film center. Even back in the early days of being a gypsy organization, we considered it part of our mission to help other nonprofits in their mission and services to the community.”
The collaborations come about in different ways. Paradise relates, “Sometimes people approach me and say, listen, I know this film and I think it would be great to show it and collaborate with X, Y, Z organization. With the opening of the film center, it became much easier to offer this opportunity. We do probably a dozen to two dozen of these kinds of events a year.” Even with the lingering effects of COVID, there were around 20 collaborations in 2022. The selected 61 examples listed on their website reflect the astounding breadth and depth of the film society’s impact over the years.
Sometimes Paradise reaches out to an organization with an idea for an event that coincides with a movie he wants to screen. He says, “It’s good for us too. We’re not looking to monetize the event, but it benefits us in indirect ways. It exposes a different audience to the film center who wouldn’t necessarily come to the theater.” He mentions, for instance, the two times they screened films for the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust — the 2018 film “Lobster War” about a climate-fueled conflict between the United States and Canada over waters that both countries have claimed since the end of the Revolutionary War. Additionally, the 2019 film “Artifishal” about people, rivers, and the fight for the future of wild fish and the environment that supports them was also a big hit. Paradise explains how these sorts of events expand his audience: “The organization goes out to their community and say, ‘We’re doing this collaborative screening and we’d like you to attend.’ And low and behold, there are individuals who come to see that film who might not think about coming to see a movie at the film center.”
Paradise says, “Sometimes it’s an event that’s a goodwill gesture. For instance, we did a free screening for the volunteers at Hospice & Palliative Care of Martha’s Vineyard. They asked us if we were willing to do this so they could thank them. I said sure we would do that.” Likewise, they recently held an event with Community Services, screening “Every Day,” a movie that deals with sexual abuse, and the Q&A afterward included two staff members of MV Community Services’ CONNECT to End Domestic Violence initiative. Paradise says, “It wasn’t about money, but they were able to share about their services. A lot of times, the collaborations are meant to be awareness builders about what an organization is trying to do in the community.”
The film society also does collaborations that involve fundraisers and in 2022 they helped raise over $10,000 for other nonprofits. They just hosted a live reading of “I and You” by the Peter H. Luce Playreaders who were themselves collaborating with the Vineyard Haven library to raise money for the building of their much-anticipated new community room. In turn, many Island businesses donated substantial gift certificates for the raffle. Of this multi-partner collaboration, Paradise shares, “We provided the space and the technical support. But again, while some of the audience were already members, I’m sure there were people who hadn’t been to the theater in many years or weren’t frequent cinema goers who came because they wanted to support the library and also probably were attracted by a live play reading.” The film center’s stage makes events like these as well as speakers, panels, and post-screening Q&A periods possible.
Pairing with the schools is a high priority since it is part of the film society’s mission. Pre-pandemic they were doing anywhere from six to ten school screenings a year. Paradise says, “Any time we can bring students to the film center to show them a film that relates to or complements their curriculum, we feel like that’s a great service. It’s free of charge. We recently had about 60 students from the high school’s two AP classes on African American Studies come watch “Emancipation” and have a 30-minute discussion afterward. And the list goes on. I can’t think of any school we haven’t worked with.” One such partnership came about unexpectedly when the winning bidder of their donation of a free screening to the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services’ Possible Dreams benefit turned around and gifted it to the Vineyard Haven school so the students could do a class trip to the film center.
Paradise says about their community efforts: “It originates with the idea that as a nonprofit film organization that is community-based, these collaborations fall in line with our mission … and it’s just something I believe in. It’s a way of giving back to the community and saying thank you for supporting the film society and center and realizing our dream of having a permanent cinema.”
The film society states, “We believe that strength lies in community partnerships, and in the adage that ‘what goes around comes around.’” Clearly, it continues to live up to its commitment … and the Island is all the richer for it.
Visit mvfilmsociety.com/community-collaborations/ for more information.