Most Williams students have watched at least one movie in quaint, 192-seat Images Cinema, tucked away with Canterbury’s Pub in a small nook off of Spring Street. Most know it as a small, independent arthouse with an ongoing cashflow problem. However, little know its history, or even that it has a history at all.
Images Cinema started in the still-silent 1920’s as a Walden Theatre, built onto the back of a house. Twice its present capacity, Images’ boundaries once stretched as far as what is now the location of the Adventure Goat. It was largely a success through the forties and fifties as Williamstown’s only source for first-run movies, going through a series of successful owners including Nickelodeon and using such puclicity stunts as “Tuesday Night Porn.”
Then the 1980’s arrived, and Don Fisher took over. He intended to keep it running as a for-profit moviehouse, but the times were changing, and video and cable television became the preferred outlets for moviewatching. The multiplex cinema was taking over, giving the public the wide selection they desired and leaving single-screen Images at a financial disadvantage. Fisher weathered the storm for over fifteen years, and finally gave up ownership last March, when it was bought by a committee of Williamstown residents who gave the theatre one year to turn things around.
Turning things around is precisely what new artistic director Alexandra Kalmanofsky and managing director Angela Cardinali are trying to do. “We turned it into a not-for-profit entity. We started to look at it as an arts organization. We started to think about it in terms of providing something for the community on an artistic level,” says Kalmanofsky. The new goal of Images is not to squeak out a profit, but simply to connect with the community.
To accomplish this “connection,” the two began to think about the space of Images in a different way, as something more than just an arthouse. “We’re trying to get involved with the elementary and high schools,” says Cardinali. “We’re trying to get involved with the colleges, to tie in some of our films to their educational programming.” Ideally, the theatre will become a more user-friendly space, catering to the old and young alike. This translates to lower student and senior citizen ticket prices ($5.00, instead of $6.50) and even the possibility of employee benefit nights for companies like Tripod.
A publicity campaign has also been aimed toward the student community as a means of making the general public more aware of what an independent film truly is. “Just because something’s smaller doesn’t mean it’s not good,” says Cardinali. Independent films are not by definition weird, she says, but simply lack a big Hollywood distributor. In fact, the two believe that one of Images’ biggest assets is its specificity. “Nobody in this area, within like an hour radius, shows the kind of movies that we show,” says Kalmanofsky. Cardinali adds, “People are waiting for them to come here.”
Connecting with the community requires trying new things constantly. To tap the Williams student market, Images has started to advertise daily in the DA and on radio. Ticket giveaways and tie-ins with such Spring Street staples as Lickety-Split and Where’d You Get That? also help spread the word.
Both Cardinali and Kalmanofsky see Williams as a market with great potential, but one that is not yet open to the independent film experience. They have talked with both SAC and Cinephiles, in the hopes of hosting movies by either organization. “We want to bring Williams students in here,” says Kalmanofsky. As an answer to surprisingly low student attendance on Friday nights, Images is lowering Friday night student ticket prices for the month of November from $5.00 to $3.00.
They are also showing a few more mainstream, big studio movies such as Ever After, Blade, There’s Something About Mary, and the much-awaited screen adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which will be shown at the end of November. Along with these higher profile films will be the usual lineup of maverick cinema, with November showings of John Waters’ Pecker, Slums of Beverly Hills, the super-controversial Cannes success Happiness, and a documentary about electronic music called Modulations. Also, to satisfy international tastes, Images will co-sponsor with Williams College and the Northern Berkshire Jewish Federation a Sunday night Israeli Film Festival from late October into November.
The past six months under new management have been, for the most part, disappointing, showing no significant improvement on the Don Fisher era. Ironically, a huge attendance drop-off occured when fall semester began in September. However Images management remains hopeful, and is very open to suggestions from the student community, and might even make the occasional mainstream concession. “We are actually having…considering, this is not saying that we’re gonna do it…but we are considering having the ‘We Can’t Believe You Want It But You Got It Adam Sandler Film Festival,’” says Kalmanofksy. “We have to see if we’re brave enough to actually go through with it.”