Richard Paradise glides around the nearly constructed building on the corner of Tisbury Marketplace, walking quickly to show off the next feature, spreading his arms wide as he elaborates on what is to come. “So just like in a new theater on the mainland, it’s gonna have stadium seating where every seat is a great seat,” he says while standing on the wooden platform.
Lights here. Camera there. Action!
Well, not quite yet.
The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center is well under way, but there is still much to do.
While Reid (Sam) Dunn and his company, Ferryboat Village Partnership, have funded the actual building process, it’s up to the Film Society and donors to transform the building into a theater with plush seats, ambient lights and a 28-foot screen, to name a few items.
Mr. Dunn approached Mr. Paradise with the idea of building the center about a year and a half ago.
“I was blown away by the generosity of Mr. Dunn to come to me and say if I build this, will you lease it long-term and run it as the film center,” said Mr. Paradise.
The two had collaborated in the past, hosting “dinner and a movie” events at Saltwater Restaurant, which Mr. Dunn owns.
“I had been seeing movies over the year and I knew [Mr. Paradise] did a really good job,” said Mr. Dunn. “He is what you want your children to be when they grow up. You want them to have passion, and he has an incredible passion for this. Usually that’s enough to make something work.”
Since 1999 Mr. Paradise has been screening independent and foreign films on the Island as the founder and executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society. He started by showing old classic films from the 30s, 40s, and 50s each week at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Typically, there would be an audience of about 20 or 25 people.
Nowadays, said Alan Brigish, chairman of the society’s advisory committee, the showings are usually packed.
“You have to get there early,” he said. “It’s just jammed . . . I see a lot of friends and it’s become something of a social gathering. [Mr. Paradise] really is fulfilling a need.”
The society now has about 700 members whose pledges help keep the movies coming.
Along with the expanding membership, the selection of films has broadened beyond the classics: a choice of documentary, foreign films, short films or independent films show once a week at different venues, from the Katharine Cornell Theatre to the Union Chapel to the Hebrew Center.
“You name a building that is an auditorium and I’ve probably shown a movie in it,” said Mr. Paradise.
While he has been more than thankful for the spaces offered, it is difficult to be a mobile theater; the film society cannot keep up or invest in current technologies. The new theater will have a Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) projector that will have the capability of showing first-run releases and limited-run releases that were not available before due to lack of technology.
“It’ll provide an opportunity for the Vineyard to stay alongside America, so to speak,” said Mr. Paradise.
The society plans to stay true to its roots and continue showing non-commercial, independent films.
While current presentations require speaker set up, the new theater will have a 7.1 surround sound system, plus those comfortable stadium-style seats.
“Which is important,” said Mr. Brigish. “Especially among those of us who are, shall we say, in our silver years.”
In the winter months, Mr. Paradise hopes to accommodate folks who would rather not drive at night, and have movies play during the day with multiplexing. Rather than one movie showing several times throughout the day, a different movie will play at each time slot. During the summer months of July and August, showings will be limited to after 7:30 p.m. so as to avoid traffic and parking issues in the marketplace.
With a permanent space, the Film Society wants to carry on collaborating with other nonprofits on the Island, too.
“With a movie theater of our own, we can do educational movies, programming for children and film workshops,” said Mr. Brigish.
The center will be equipped with a small stage for musicians or speakers, making the venue fit for galas, receptions and private showings. But movies will always be the core of the mission.
“It’s going to take time to evolve,” Mr. Paradise said. “I don’t have any set plan other than that I want to show great films.”
As for the present, Mr. Paradise is still hauling the necessary equipment to various venues around the Island. Tomorrow night, June 23, outdoors at Owen Park in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Paradise presents the 1971 documentary, Blue Water White Death, as part of Summer for the Sharks. On Wednesday, June 27, he is showing Knuckleball!, again, outdoors, at the Vineyard Baseball field behind the regional high school as a fundraiser for the Martha’s Vineyard Little League.
Weekly film showings at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, plus solidifying plans for the 2012 Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival in September will keep him busy this summer.
“It’s a lot of hats,” he said. “But I like wearing hats.”
Mr. Paradise has been commuting from Falmouth for the past five years where he is a self-employed freelance advertising salesman. But he still considers the Vineyard his community.
“Richard comes from off-Island. He doesn’t take any compensation. He screens movies, does the Web site, sends out e-mails and all the other stuff,” said Mr. Brigish. “He does it because he loves to do it and because he loves what movies do to people.”
The Film Society has raised 60 per cent of its monetary goal. Mr. Paradise hopes that the summer will bring more donors with whatever amount they can give.
“I’d rather have many people participate than one or two people pay for it all,” he said. “More people will use the facility if they give their $25 or $50. They will feel like they are a part of it when they walk through the doors.”