CHATHAM — Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, a paucity of new films and the uncertainty surrounding a reopening date for the Crandell Theatre, FilmColumbia organizers voted to cancel the 21st annual film festival.
FilmColumbia, which in 2019 introduced such excellent films as “Parasite,” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and “Marriage Story” to movie audiences and unveiled such exciting breakthroughs as “The Vast of Night” and “Clemency,” will be dark for the first time in its storied two-decade history.
The choice to cancel the festival, which traditionally opens the third week of October, was painful for the Crandell Theater’s board of directors, acknowledged FilmColumbia Managing Director Calliope Nicholas.
“It was heartache for all of us, but it was a hard decision we had to make,” Nicholas said.
Beyond the artistic and commercial effect of a year with no festival, the financial impact could be greater.
“This is going to be a big hit for us,” Nicholas said. “The Crandell Theater is a not-for-profit. We depend on the support of members and contributors to maintain the schedule of feature and independent films throughout the year. FilmColumbia is a big part of that.”
In addition to the potential economic blow to the theater, crowds of movie enthusiasts from all over the world who throng Chatham for the festival will be absent this year, meaning a loss of revenue to the community.
The board of directors ruled out options such as streaming, screening films at alternative sites and a virtual forum as ways to retain the 2020 festival.
“Some festivals have experimented with streaming films, but the results have been disappointing,” according to a statement from FilmColumbia organizers. “Moreover, partly as a consequence of other festivals canceling, and partly because of the cessation of film production, there is a paucity of major films to choose from.”
The Crandell is closed, and there is no timetable for when New York state will allow movie theaters to re open. And there exists the possibility that the theater might have to close again if there is a second wave of the virus.
“FilmColumbia is the Crandell’s signature event, and rather than make do with a pared-down festival, we decided to bite the bullet and cancel this year’s festival,” Nicholas said.
FilmColumbia is an eight-day festival of films representing major studios, independents, international trends, animated features, documentaries and children’s short films. In addition to screening approximately 50 films, the festival also features panels, Q&A sessions with filmmakers and screenwriting workshops, according to the history on the Crandell’s website.
The Crandell Theatre was built in 1926 by Walter S. Crandell, a Chatham native and local banker. Considered an architectural gem, the building was designed in the Spanish Renaissance style by Louis L. Wetmore, an architect from Glens Falls.
The Crandell has remained largely unchanged since it opened on Christmas Day, 1926. The first motion picture shown at the theater was a Jules Verne photoplay. In 1929, sound-making equipment was installed to show “talkies” for the first time.