By Stuart Adelberg
Four months ago, I joined the Avon Theatre Film Center as its Executive Director. To be entrusted with the stewardship of one of our region’s greatest treasures is a dream come true. It is a privilege to work with a Board and staff that cherishes the Avon’s history, recognizes the importance of the arts, and, above all, engages and inspires Fairfield County audiences with the best of cinema, 365 days a year.
Though most area residents know of the Avon and the amazing work championed by Chuck and Deborah Royce to restore and reopen our previously abandoned historic theatre, many people may not fully understand the concept of a community supported, mission focused, non-profit cinema. If this describes you, I invite you to attend one of our special screenings, documentary nights, foreign language or independent films. I promise that one evening at the Avon will open your eyes to the art, value and power of film and the benefits of experiencing it with others on one of our two big screens.
It is reasonable to ask about the future of movie houses when so much content is now available online, through streaming media and other technologies. I’ve had the good fortune to view Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan, witness Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in a concert hall, attend a concert by Elton John and seen Hamilton on the Broadway stage. While technology may recreate these art forms, there is nothing that can truly replace the experience of seeing or hearing art in the manner that the artist intended. Filmmakers are artists, as well, and we rob ourselves of their gifts when we remove their art from the environment in which it was meant to be seen. We also limit the benefit of a film when we view it in private without the opportunity to communicate and react along with others who have shared in the experience.
A few months ago, the Avon screened a new film called LUCE. Though this film boasted some well-known actors, it dealt with provocative subjects, was directed by a young Nigerian filmmaker and produced by an independent studio. Avon patrons had the unique opportunity to screen the film one week before its official opening. Our special screening was followed by a dialogue with the director and the star – a young man named Kelvin Harrison, Jr. who, in my opinion, is destined for great success.
To say that our audience was moved by this film is an understatement. As the credits rolled at the end I was struck by the virtual silence in the theatre. When Kelvin and director Julius Onah came down the aisle, the audience erupted into a standing ovation. We sat as NY Times contributor, Bruce Fretts, moderated a conversation that had all of us engaged. When the discussion ended, some people spoke with our guests, while others remained in the lobby or out on the sidewalk under our historic art deco marquee and continued to discuss the issues and messages presented in the film.
This is just one example of the experiences that occur often at the Avon. Each time I attend one, it crystallizes for me, the power of a good film, the artistry that goes into skillful filmmaking and the reason that the cinema must be experienced on the big screen in a community setting. This is what the Avon is all about and it’s the reason I’m so excited to be here. While this example was of an independent film, other recent offerings engaged our audiences on critical issues including social justice and immigration. One of our current series, Exhibition on Screen, is bringing the lives, influences and masterpieces of the world’s greatest artists to local audiences. This is not a typical movie house!
Art matters. In these challenging and divisive times, it brings people together and opens hearts and minds to new ideas and diverse perspectives. A well-crafted film has the ability to lift us out of our comfort zones and gives us license to think, feel and learn in new and unique ways. When I joined the Avon I committed to ensuring that the gifts of this beautiful 80 year old gem would continue to engage and inspire Fairfield County audiences for at least another 80 years. We have some exciting plans for the future that will enhance the experience of our patrons, preserve our historic assets and build on our sense of community. I’d love to see you at the Avon! You won’t be disappointed!
Stuart Adelberg has devoted his professional life to community service and is proud to have been affiliated for more than thirty years with some of the region’s most effective non-profit organizations. He is thrilled to continue this work in his new role as the Executive Director of the Avon Theatre Film Center in downtown Stamford. Stuart graduated from Greenwich High School and Connecticut College, has had professional training in the arts, and lives with his wife Marilyn in Old Greenwich.