February 25, 2022
Behind the Scenes
Behind the Scenes is a multi-part series written by Noah Ramer that uncovers the inner workings of the Lake Placid Film Festival and highlights those who make the festival truly special.
As Lake Placid's Main Street saw massive construction efforts throughout 2021, Lake Placid Film Festival's Lead Film Programmer, Dylan Skolnick, has also been overseeing a restorative project of his own nearly 300 miles away. Skolnick is in the final stages of renovating the Cinema Arts Centre, a non-profit community movie theater in his hometown of Huntington NY. "It would be more of a surprise if there were no surprises," Skolnick said regarding the lengthy journey in converting his parents' picture house into a cinema that more closely aligns with the tastes of the modern moviegoer. However, Skolnick's sentiment could also be applied to his entire career; one that would make any cinephile immensely envious.
Dylan Skolnick's love of movies traces back to the early 1970s, when his parents held community film screenings on a borrowed projector in the local nail salon. Stanley Kubrick's seminal science-fiction feature, 2001: A Space Odyssey was cited as one of his most-watched films and still holds a special place in his heart. From those humble beginnings, Skolnick took the reins of the family business and as director, has grown the Cinema Arts Centre into one of the premiere film destinations on Long Island.
With his illustrious career downstate, I wondered how Skolnick ended up working with Adirondack Film and the Lake Placid Film Festival. The collaboration was birthed by the kind of communal chance that is synonymous with the Adirondack region. Skolnick just happened to be friends with Alan Hofmanis (the former programming director of LPFF), who invited him to volunteer for the event: "I came up [from Huntington] and I was doing stuff like introducing movies, just generally helping out any way I could. It was a lot of fun." Little did Skolnick know that the fun would continue for another decade as he slowly became the lead feature film programmer for LPFF after Hofmanis departed: "Some of the people who are there [on the board of Adirondack Film] knew me and just kind of started doing some more work with them [which] led to doing the programming."
The goal is always to have two things: The best possible movies and also a really diverse slate of films that appeal to a wide range of people.
What exactly goes into being a film programmer? If you ask Skolnick, he'll say, "well, it's not that complicated... there's just a lot of watching nowadays." Skolnick begins his programming process by doing just that: staring at a screen. He starts by watching over 60 films throughout the year for festival consideration, with screening links provided to him by film distributors such as IFC Films, Beeker Street, and A24.
From there, he, along with guidance from Adirondack Film, must make the challenging decision of what makes the final lineup for LPFF. From this point, it's clear that Skolnick is constantly looking at the big picture. Rather than solely focusing on a singular element (i.e. score, acting, cinematography) in a given film, he concentrates on how every piece melds together to create a cohesive whole. This focus can also be found when deciding the overall slate of films for the festival: "The goal is always to have two things: The best possible movies and also a really diverse slate of films that appeal to a wide range of people... I'm just trying to look for really great movies." Skolnick not only looks at the quality of the individual film, but how it will nestle into the overall schedule and the viewing preferences of festival goers. "I want people to know... that there's a real element of curation [to LPFF's selections]. We're not just throwing out anything we find. We are really working hard to find the best films and put it in front of them."
Budgetary restrictions and the availability of select films also play a factor into Skolnick's process. For instance, he explained that he was in deep negotiations with Netflix to have Jane Campion's latest masterpiece, The Power of the Dog, at last year's festival before the streamer decided on a different festival track for the film. These components may be the toughest part of Skolnick's decision-making, but takes it in stride saying, "Unfortunately, you have to live on a budget. There's not an unlimited pot of money. The festival is dependent on both ticket sales and contributions. [However,] People are really kind and supportive in the Adirondack area, and Lake Placid in particular."
As our conversation began to wrap up, Skolnick waxed lyrical about his position as film programmer, "It's a great feeling to present people with something they've never heard of and they take a chance on it, and they're thrilled. To have something [that] you find that's wonderful, and share it with someone and get that reaction of 'wow, that was really powerful,' that's a great feeling." It's clear from his passionate enthusiasm, that Dylan Skolnick fits perfectly into the metaphorical program that is the Adirondack Film team.
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October 24, 2023