Upstate Films History

Upstate Films opened in May of 1972 as a single-screen non-profit cinema staffed by its three founders. We launched our program in 16mm showing an eclectic mix of classic Hollywood and foreign films reflecting a wide-ranging diversity of themes, styles, countries, and eras. Over the years, Upstate fostered an audience of curious and committed filmgoers interested in finding alternatives to mainstream cinema. Upstate came of age alongside the American independent film movement, screening sought-after indie features and documentaries along with films that were rarely screened in the country, much less in semi-rural areas.

Over the decades, Upstate has shown thousands of films and hosted hundreds of filmmakers, screenwriters and critics, becoming an acclaimed cultural destination in the region. Highlights include a visit by famed New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, who shared her wit and insight with audiences in a lively discussion of the 1941 screwball classic The Lady Eve. Almost a decade later, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory came to perform their play My Dinner with Andre, which would soon be made into a film by Louis Malle. Visionary artists such as Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, Todd Haynes, Errol Morris, Jim Jarmusch, and Debra Granik have visited and shared their work and passion with the filmgoing community.

Alongside our mission of promoting access to the cinema arts, Upstate has served as a vital public forum, hosting speakers such as consumer activist Ralph Nader and United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter. Upstate has worked with many and varied community organizations to address topics of local interest, including agricultural practices, local history, Lyme disease prevention and treatment, Hudson river conservation, and renewable energy. Many of these programs have been open to the public free of charge to ensure their accessibility to all.

Upstate has served as a venue for key cultural events in the Hudson Valley, including the Woodstock Film Festival and the annual Sinterklaas celebrations. We have hosted student film festivals, welcomed local filmmakers to do advanced and community screenings of their work, and provided organizations such as Scenic Hudson with spaces to run public events.

Supporting education is part of our mission. Upstate hosts filmmaking workshops for students in conjunction with Spark Media. During the school year, Upstate works with teachers at the F.D. Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park in an ongoing advanced placement course that began in 1987 – A Documentary Approach to History & Literature. In 2019, Upstate worked with the Hudson Valley Oral History Project to train local volunteers in producing short oral history documentaries on local subjects.

Upstate has also worked in theatrical distribution, sharing worthwhile cinema with the broader public by co-distributing films such as Anchoress, an elegant medieval drama from the UK, the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Weather Underground, and local filmmaker Ralph Arlyck’s Emmy-nominated Following Sean.

Over the decades, we’ve expanded our physical footprint. In 1999, with generous support from the moviegoing public, we added a second small theater at our Rhinebeck location to help us survive competition from multiplexes. In 2010 we leased the single-screen cinema on Tinker Street in Woodstock, saving it from extinction and expanding the reach of our eclectic programming into the Catskills region. As technological changes have revolutionized cinema exhibition, we have embraced new technologies, upgrading our projection and sound equipment by moving from 16 to 35mm, switching from mono to stereo sound, adding video capability, and in 2013, with support from our audience, by transitioning to fully digital cinema in accordance with new industry standards.

Upstate Films is both an economic anchor and a cultural magnet, contributing to the vitality and uniqueness of our community. The 75,000-plus filmgoers who attend our cinemas annually patronize local merchants before and after the show. In the face of innovations such as home video and streaming, which have brought the movie experience into private homes, Upstate continues to affirm the value of film as a public experience to be shared among neighbors and strangers alike. Upstate remains a place to experience the extraordinary breadth and depth of cinematic culture, entering spaces both novel and familiar, fictitious and veritable, while laughing, crying and sitting in silent rapture alongside fellow human beings. Our programming on both sides of the Hudson explores and highlights important social realities, cultural phenomena, and aesthetic movements, enriching our audiences’ lives and providing valuable references for navigating our complex and information-saturated world.