We are extremely sad to tell you that Vic Skolnick, Co-Founder of Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre passed away today at age 81. He died peacefully at his home in Centerport, Long Island. Vic was an integral part of shaping Huntington into a chic and funky little artistic suburb on Long Island. He was willing to take risks and appreciated diversity in all forms of artistic expression. He will be greatly missed. Here is an interview we had with Vic from December 28th 2009 in which he talks about bringing movies and other performance art to our town. The tenacity of Vic and Charlotte Sky in creating and nurturing what is now the Cinema Arts Centre while living their passion showed through in Vic’s comments that day.
Yesterday’s Sunday’s Schmooze at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington was totally entertaining. Coffee, bagels and juice are served before the show and then Vic Skolnick one of the founders and co-directors gives a talk about the show that you are about to watch, all for 12 bucks, and only $9 for members. This Sunday’s schmooze featured a special showing of Orson Welles, ”A Touch of Evil”. Great movie, made even better by Mr. Skolnick’s introduction that provided historical context that lent the story a lot more magnitude. After the Schmooze, The Village Tattler sat down with Vic Skolnick to get a history of Huntington’s cultural gem. As Vic spoke the story unfolded like a “rites of passage “style film. Here is our adaptation of his story into a screenplay outline:
OPENING IMAGE: Vic and Charlotte Skolnick in an elevator coming down from their sixth floor apartment in Manhattan. As they approach the ground floor they brace themselves for the tremendous bang that will inevitably happen from their half-broken lift. They are young, in love and living in New York in the fifties.
THEME IS STATED: Not only are they in love with each other but also with the funky movie houses in Greenwich Village and Tribeca. They proclaim that they couldn’t live without them.
CATALYST: Charlotte is expecting a child. They are concerned about the cranky and possibly dangerous elevator so they listen to a friend and relocate to a charming house out in Centerport. At this point Vic is teaching history, specializing in race and ethnicity at C. W. Post. Soon Vic quits this job and he and his wife are both driving back and forth to Fulton Street in NYC delivering transaction cards from A&S stores. They desperately miss their art and film houses of the city and plot to begin something out here in Huntington.
THE DEBATE: Can they pull it off? Their good friend Nancy Hume loans them her dance studio when she is not using it. They arm themselves with a movie projector, not for profit status, and a bed sheet to begin showing their films to customers who bring their own chairs. They immediately start seeing repeat customers so they offer a membership. For a $5 fee, people can see the weekly films for $1. With the membership money they can afford to bring in next week’s movie. It works and they are open for business!
FUN AND GAMES: They move into Huntington Village and the kid’s gymnastic center in the former firehouse on Main Street rents them the first floor. Perfect space for movies because this is the big open spacious part of the old firehouse where the fire engines used to park. Momentum is picking up and a bigger and regular crowd is coming. The 33-millimeter films they show have 3 different reels to load, which make for two intermissions where customers can mingle and get up and enjoy the coffee and cookies. Eventually the gymnastic center closes and the Skolnicks are nervous that they’ll be tossed out. However, the landlord offers them the upstairs room and up they move into that even bigger space. They bring in a couch from the Salvation Army in the basement and place it in the front row of the theater. People begin arriving early for the coveted couch spot so Vic and Charlotte start buying up all of the chairs from the basement Salvation Army and now customers all try to get to their favorite chair for their viewing pleasure. Eventually the Fire Chief tells them that the room is a fire hazard so all the chairs are sold off as a fundraiser and a small amount of money is raised. Their son Dylan is a full on theater baby. He learns to read by watching films and figuring out what “The End“ spells. Those are his first words and by the time he is five he can read anything and everything. Vic and Charlotte refuse to allow their selection of movies and events to be put in a narrow box. They are having the time of their lives. They are open to political movies and slightly risqué and alternative life style films. They embrace it all and hope to enrich and enlighten suburban minds.
BAD GUYS CLOSE IN AND ALL IS LOST: Their new upstairs location is where the classic galleries building on Main Street in Huntington Village is now located and the town hall is a few steps away in its old location. The Cinema puts out their sandwich board displaying the list of movies and events on the schedule, it happens to display a gay program and a lecture by a woman from the African jungles of Rhodesia who addresses everyone as “ Comrade”. It is 1977 and the Village has had it with the Cinema. They are told to close up shop citing violation of the fire code. They do not have proper egress.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: It has been constant battle to keep their dream afloat. Working two jobs and sometimes three they never know if they’ll have enough money to cover all of the costs. As soon as they think that they have a footing something like having to buy updated equipment comes along. How will they be able to find a new space and continue to express artistic freedom? This may be too big for them to overcome and maybe they should just schlep into Manhattan for their fill of inspired films.
BREAK INTO THREE: Unbeknownst to the Skolnicks, friends they’ve made through the cinema begin bombarding and harassing the town to allow them to operate. Embraced by people who care and hunger for a more cosmopolitan theatrical outlet, the Skolnicks are revivified and the town backs off agreeing to working on finding an acceptable solution.
FINALE: The town has an old elementary building that is becoming a hangout joint for local hoodlums who decorate the place with graffiti and broken windows. They would like it to be occupied especially at night to keep the bad elements away. The Skolnicks are offered it at an affordable rent and the “New Community Cinema” is transformed into “ The Cinema Arts Centre”. The town is happy, as are the Skolnicks and their fans.
FINAL IMAGE: Smiling Theatergoers exiting from sold out movies with famous guest speakers.
The real happy ending comes eleven years later when the Skolnicks receive an unsolicited gift of over $1 million, from the Marion O & Maximilian E Hoffman Foundation which was being managed by Ursula Niarakis, who had been to the cinema and knew its potential and importance to the community.
The Cinema Arts Center has a great restaurant which serves things such as hummus wraps, pumpkin soup, chai, cake, brownies, tea, green mountain coffee just to name a few. The outside garden is gorgeous and has tables along brick paths and flowers and shrubs. It was donated and planted by a local orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stuart Polisner and his wife Ginger, who are big fans of the Cinema. Another family has just donated money for them to put outdoor lights around the garden for the warm weather. This will be really great for Sunday Schmooze, special events and just hanging out before and after a film.
They now use Skype to offer some really exciting videoconference events. Recently they had Francis Ford Coppola answer questions live from the audience after one of his films. They will also have ongoing showings of live performances from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. These are just a few of the awesome events in store at the Cinema. If you haven’t been to the cinema recently I strongly urge you to check out their website and experience for your self what a unique and enjoyable venue it is. Memberships are available for those who will be frequent customers and want discounted tickets.
-Our thoughts and prayers go out for Vic and his family-
423 Park Ave. Huntington