When Richard Paradise is working the door (and most nights he is), arriving at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center for a movie is a little like walking into a party. With smiles, laughs and personal greetings, Mr. Paradise makes sure everyone who enters the lobby feels welcome.

“Hello, there, young people,” he called on Sunday night to a group of teens coming through the door, followed by a dad holding tickets to the sold-out show. Another eight or 10 people on the wait list lingered hopefully in the lobby, for what proved to be just two available seats for the sailing film Maiden.

“It’s been sold out for, I would say, 80 per cent of the time we’ve shown it,” said Mr. Paradise of the documentary, which opened July 5 at The Film Center in Tisbury Marketplace.

Sold-out screenings are nothing new for the 180-seat theatre, which has become a popular Island destination year-round since it opened in the fall of 2012 as the permanent home of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society. As the society’s executive director, Mr. Paradise also manages the Capawock in Vineyard Haven and the Strand in Oak Bluffs, two historic single-screen movie houses that are open seasonally.

Film Society's annual International Film Festival is Sept. 3 to Sept. 8 — Jeanna Shepard

Across its three locations, the nonprofit film society — founded in 1999 by Mr. Paradise with a small group of fellow Island movie buffs, all volunteers — now employs more than 20 people in the summer and has an operating budget of just over $1 million in annual revenue.

As the society celebrates its 20th anniversary, as well as the 14th annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival opening Sept. 3, Mr. Paradise looked back over the two decades since he first started showing movies on the Island.

“It was never a grand plan,” he said. Instead, the film society evolved out of a shared fondness for classic films and his own desire to get out and meet people after he and his wife moved to the Vineyard in the late 1990s.

“I was just searching, reaching out to get involved in the community,” said Mr. Paradise, whose work in magazine publishing took place largely by phone.

“I was working at home, calling people around the country and around the world all day and all night. I had no Island connection.”

Teaming up with other Vineyard movie lovers, including Anne Evasick of Island Entertainment, gave Mr. Paradise the opportunity “to express what I was always passionate about, which was sharing interesting movies,” he said.

The society’s first venue was on the second floor of Grange Hall in West Tisbury, where the audience sat on wooden benches to see 16-millimeter projections of classic and cult movies.

Other venues over the years have included the Tabernacle and Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, and the Mansion House and pre-renovation Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Paradise said.

Screenings were during the summer only for the first few years, but in 2002 Mr. Paradise began showing films at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in fall, winter and spring, and adding more foreign language and independent films to the mix of classics the society had been presenting.

“That was a big leap of faith,” he recalled. Another came with the international film festival, which made its debut in 2006.

Moving the Film Society offerings to the Tisbury Marketplace in 2012 represented a leap of faith for Richard Paradise. — Jeanna Shepard

“I was thinking, I’d really like to do something where I can show all these great international films, foreign language films. . . I love other cultures and exploring other places in the world, and I’ve done that all my life through film,” said Mr. Paradise.

His own moviegoing, in New York cinemas like the Bleecker Street Theatre, provided a refuge from the gritty housing project where he was raised in northern New Jersey.

“It was all escapism,” Mr. Paradise said. “I needed to take my mind away from my surroundings.”

Foreign films, in particular, showed him worlds he never thought he’d see in person.

“I never thought of going to other countries,” he said. “My parents never went to any countries.”

Though he later traveled internationally and around the U.S. for work, Mr. Paradise still feels the power of movies to transport viewers into entirely new worlds.

“Through international films, you really can learn about other cultures and other places,” he said.

When the first festival began in 2006, the film society was still what Mr. Paradise called “a gypsy organization,” with no location of its own, staffed only by volunteers.

“I always loved film, but I could never figure out a way to actually make it a job,” he said.

That changed in 2011 when Tisbury Marketplace developer Sam Dunn made an unexpected offer to Mr. Paradise: Mr. Dunn would build a movie theatre at the business center, if the film society would manage it over a long-term lease.

“I thought for about 30 seconds, without consulting anyone, and said yes,” Mr. Paradise recalled.

With Mr. Dunn providing the land and building, Mr. Paradise’s job was to raise funds for the interior and furnishings. When the two men first talked, the film society had about 200 members, $3,000 in the bank and an annual budget of $75,000, Mr. Paradise said.

“I ran everything off my computer at home. No one got paid. We had one insurance policy, for liability. It was a really low-profile, non-profit,” he said.

“I took the leap of faith that the community would get excited about the project.”

After raising about half a million dollars in a year, “we broke ground in May of 2012 and opened Sept. 5, 2012,” opening night for that year’s international film festival, Mr. Paradise said.

The Capawock and Strand joined the film society fold in 2016, following extensive, donation-funded renovations to the two vintage theatres by the nonprofit Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation.

With 18 movies and two programs of shorts this year, representing some 20 nations in all, the international film festival is the largest as well as the oldest of the society’s five annual series. The others are the Spectrum Film Festival in April, which focuses on LGBTQ+ themes, the Environmental Film Festival in May, the Filmusic Festival in June and Documentary Week, sponsored by HBO, in early August.

“All types of movies, I love and cherish, because they serve a wide variety of interests and a wide variety of needs,” Mr. Paradise said.

The Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival begins Sept. 3 with the Colombian film Bird of Passage. The opening night party, Sept. 5, will be followed by a screening of the Macedonian documentary Honeyland. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.