The Piano Player and the Dancer
Published For The Corridor
If there is any single venue that has impacted an entire community and helped to sculpt and define it culturally, it has to be the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington.
Originally, the humble “New Community Cinema”, it’s Creators, Vic Skolnick and wife Charlotte Sky, showed alternative cinema, independent and foreign films projected on a bed-sheet at their friend, Nancy Hume’s studio on Main St. in Huntington. People had to bring their own chairs. It was cool. They were young, hip intellectuals from New York City and came to Long Island in 1970 with their 3 year old son, Dylan.
Vic was a Brooklyn-born American History teacher at CW Post with an Ivy League education and Charlotte was a dancer. “I played the piano,” Vic said, “...and the plan was that I was going to accompany her, and she was going to dance...”
At one point the “New Community Cinema” set up it’s bed-sheet in an “acrobatic” studio in the old Firehouse on Main St. Charlotte said “We were evicted from there. We showed a Gay film and when we returned the following evening there was a big note on the door informing us that we had been evicted.” In 1977, they moved into the current location, formerly the Village Green Elementary School which closed in 1972.
They met in Brooklyn when Charlotte was 18 years old. “We were young, ‘way too young,” said Charlotte. Vic rolled his eyes then leaned over the table in the Sky Room Café and said “What we shared, was a great passion for good Cinema.” Charlotte agreed, “As soon as I was old enough, I went to the Hollywood Fair on Avenue P, and we went to the Vogue. We were film fanatics, twice a week we went.”
The Sky Room Café is a long way from Avenue P and even a long way from the Dance Studio on Main St., only a few blocks away. Today, the Cinema Arts Centre sprawls across the top of the Huntington Village Green, America’s oldest existing village green-- the center of every Colonial village which served as the market and show place of the town. Vic and Charlotte reminded me that it was now an official Landmark, commemorating “The Battle of Huntington” during the American Revolution. Because of it’s historic relevance, current Town ordinance declares that a marquee could not be erected on that site, instead there is an understated illuminated sign. The building is really a series of buildings hosting the senior citizen center, Project Excel, and other town projects, nestled into a hillside surrounded by exquisite gardens linked one to another with elaborate, brick walkways. Many of the bricks have names inscribed on them. The café spills out of the building and into the garden with spidery wrought iron patio furniture. Vic says “I’ll tell you about that garden...Dr. Stuart Polsner, a surgeon and horticulturist told me ‘I’ll do the garden.’ “He got on his hands and knees and dug the holes himself and stuck the plants in the ground!” Vic said...”And Peter Tilles did the brickwork.” His semaphore eyebrows were very impressed with that. “You know who Peter Tilles is, don’t you?”
The turn around for the Skolnicks and what made the Cinema Arts Center what it is today, came in 1989 when they were contacted by representatives from the Maximilian E. and Marion O. Hoffman Foundation in Glen Cove. The Skolnick’s presented a modest plan for renovations, additions and construction in stages. The interviewer asked “Well, how much would it cost to do it all at once?” They were gifted with $1,000,000.00 for the project. “We were shocked when they offered to fund the whole thing--we danced around singing “Fairy tales, can come true, it can happen to you!” Vic said.
The original 327-seat theater was once a school auditorium, to which it currently bears no resemblance at all. The wooden chairs were replaced with real, cushioned theater seats. The renovation also included new flooring, ceilings and walls, and new sound and projection equipment. Along with the physical renovations came a new name, the “New Community Cinema” was transformed into the “Cinema Arts Centre”.
The decision to expand was dictated by economics. It became increasingly difficult and costly to rent the kinds of films that distinguished the New Community Cinema, once the only theater of it’s kind on Long Island. “With two screens,” Vic said, “we could book a more popular film on one of them and leave the other screen free for the alternative films.” He sighed, “We have to show popular films to make money to pay the bills.”
In addition to fine cinema, the Skolnicks also present evenings with the film makers and actors themselves, among whom have been Spike Lee, Isabella Rossellini, Wim Wenders, Danny Glover, David Lynch, George Romero, Ang Lee, Robert Altman, John Waters, Mark and Michael Polish, Jack Hill, James Ivory, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Kenneth Anger, Liv Ullmann, Peter Bogdanovich, John Sayles, Debra Winger, Edie Falco, Campbell Scott, Spike Lee, Sid Haig, Budd Schulberg, Jim Sheridan, Lee Grant, Margarethe von Trotta, Bigas Luna, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., Tony Shalhoub, Larry Fessenden, Brad Dourif, Carol Burnett, Zhang Yimou, Lynn Redgrave, Abel Ferrara, Charles Burnett, Harry Chapin, Hal Hartley, Joe Sarno, Ed Burns, George Stevens Jr., Nancy Savoca, Bela Fleck, and D.A. Pennebaker, and this Summer’s offerings Jeremiah Zagar, Wendy Keys and Alexander Olch.