Cinema Arts Celebrates Forty Years
Popcorn and movies will be traded for cocktails and dancing as Cinema Arts Centre holds its 40th Anniversary Gala on Thursday, Oct. 10. Honoring four decades of the Huntington cultural hub, Co-Directors Dylan Skolnick and his mother, Charlotte Sky, will be pulling out all the stops for the festivities, treating guests to musical performances, dancing, a seated dinner, and a short film.
“We don’t usually do the ‘gala thing.’ We choose to concentrate our fundraising on individuals – our members, [but] everyone felt that we couldn’t let the 40th go by; it’s the big 4-0,” Skolnick said. “We have to have a party, and it’s a fundraiser. We decided to do that, and I think it’s going to be a great night. We’re having some extra screenings, [in addition to the celebration], but the main focus is the gala.”
The celebration will be held from 6:30-11:30 p.m. at the North Ritz Club in Syosset.
The road to creating the Cinema Arts Centre (CAC) began in 1973 with New York City natives, Vic Skolnick, Dylan’s father, and Sky. Accustomed to a rich film culture, they were shocked to find a lack of places showing good movies when they moved to Huntington. But, instead of complaining, they vowed to make a change. They knew Huntington was in dire need of a proper entertainment venue, and they would be the ones to provide it.
“They went from having many, many choices to having nothing. Instead of being cranky about it, they decided to do something about it,” Dylan Skolnick said. “They borrowed a projector from the library, put up a bed sheet on the wall, asked people for a very modest donation, put up a few fliers, and people showed up.”
The first crowds of the “New Community Cinema” at 235 Main St. – hosted by a Huntington dance studio – were treated to a mix of comedy and drama with W.C. Field’s hilarious short, “The Fatal Glass of Beer,” as well as the film “Lilith,” which starred Warren Beatty and Jean Seberg. This was an initial success, and more people starting swarming the site. Sky said she noticed the droves of people and decided to move to an unlikely venue.
“It started because there were very strong people who loved good movies. [We said], ‘Let’s see if there’s a lot of interest.’ So, we took a chance and a studio that had dance classes offered to start showing movies,” Sky said. “It was amazing because, since it was a dance studio, people had to bring their own chairs.”
Roughly 100 people could fit inside the dance studio. Dylan Skolnick noted that “as the theater grew more professional, it attracted more people.” Vic Skolnick and Sky embraced the increase in attendees by presenting programs that dealt with controversial topics, such as gay and lesbian issues. In addition, they gave a voice to filmmakers who weren’t given any other chance.
“We started viewing independent films when no one knew what they were. It gave [independent] filmmakers a chance to have a new audience. The filmmakers would be traveling around the country and would notify us to make sure they were part of the program. The same happened with the women’s movement. There weren’t many opportunities for women in film. Women filmmakers needed a place to show their work and make appearances,” Sky said.
Naturally, it came to a point where the studio space became far too small to accommodate the crowds it was drawing. However, less than a year after starting the theater, Vic Skolnick and Sky were awarded a grant from the New York State Council of the Arts that changed everything.
“That [the grant] was a big boost,” Dylan Skolnick said.
Next came the need for a bigger space, and a new home was found at the Village Green Elementary School at 423 Park Ave. in Huntington, which was closed at the time.
“The town started looking for places for us. They had this place that was being vandalized every night, and someone put two-and-two together and said, ‘This school had a big, 400-seat auditorium. Maybe if there are events going on at night, and it’s not empty, it will stop being vandalized,’” Dylan Skolnick said. “It worked out very well for this building. We were the first step in this building become a vital community center, and we’re really pleased to have played a role in that.”
By 1992, the venue was officially named Cinema Arts Centre. To adapt to changing times, Cinema Arts Centre underwent renovations in 1989 and 2000, during which they added two more screens and a discussion room and café, respectively. Then, this past July, CAC entered the 21st century with the addition of new digital projectors.
Vic Skolnick never got to see his creation enter the digital age. He died at the age of 81 in 2010, but his contributions as a cultural giant have maintained a place in the heart of Huntington as his theater continues to grow.
“We have to keep up with people’s cinematic needs. When we opened, we had a program, and now it’s very different. We used to do mostly older films; now, we do mostly newer films,” Dylan Skolnick said. “Video and cable have lessened the demand for classic movies. We still focus on classic movies, but now we present it in a different way, like with guest speakers or live music. [It’s] to lure people out of their houses.”
Cinema Arts Centre has had its share of celebrity guests as well. Past speakers have included David Lynch, Carol Burnett, Isabella Rossellini, Ed Burns, Edie Falco, John Turturro, Campbell Scott and Eng Lee.
While visits from famous figures have been a key part of the theater, its main purpose is one focused on community.
“The original name was New Community Cinema. Community is really the center of the whole thing. You go to a regular movie theater, and you go in, you buy your ticket, buy some popcorn, and you watch the movie. We like to have it more so it’s like a community experience,” Dylan Skolnick said. “People come here, and there’s a place to hang out before the film and after they can go in and talk about it. There’s a café where they can eat. We do special programs at our receptions.”
Today, CAC draws in around 150,000 visitors per year and has about 9,000 members. Visit www.cinemaartscentre.org for more information.