Appreciating the Hudson Valley’s rich alternative cinema-scape

Inside the Rosendale Theatre (photo by Dion Ogust)

This summer, the box office was marked by a string of sequels, comic book adaptations and sequels to comic book adaptations. Today these are the movies that command the highest grosses, the most marketing and the largest theaters; but where do you go around here if you want something different? Fortunately, for audiences weary of Spandex and explosions, there are Upstate Films with locations in Rhinebeck and Woodstock, the Rosendale Theatre and the Downing Film Center in Newburgh.

“We have what I like to call applause movies, where people will clap at the end,” said Brian Burke, director and co-founder of the Downing Film Center. “That always makes me feel good.”

Located along the Newburgh waterfront, the Downing Film Center is nestled in the lower level of what was once a furniture warehouse. The theater seats about 60 people. Movie posters and photographs adorn the walls, and Burke will usually sell tickets while his wife Sarah manages the refreshment stand.

How did the Downing come into being? “Basically, my son Kevin forced me into it,” said Burke. A lifelong movie buff, Burke was a high school French teacher, assistant principal and principal. After retiring, he and his family started the Downing in 2006. Dedicated to showing independent, foreign and classic movies, the not-for-profit Downing aims to screen “more quality films, often ones that have a lower budget,” said Burke. The audience for the films that he shows is mostly middle-aged, Burke added, whereas a lot of the multiplex box office earnings come from young men.

The people who come to indie theaters relate to the moviehouse as well as to the movies. “We have a very loyal audience,” said Ann Citron, managing director of the Rosendale Theatre Collective. The word “loyal” may be an understatement. The Theatre first opened its doors in 1949 and was run by the Cacchio family for its first six decades. When the Cacchios decided to sell, Citron and other local residents organized the Rosendale Theatre Collective, and purchased the Theatre in 2010.

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