February 25, 2022
In 1997, John Huttlinger was a little bit of an outlier when it comes to founding members of the Adirondack Film Society and Lake Placid Film Festival.
The five others all had previous ties to artistic endeavors and the movie industry. Kathleen Carroll was the film critic for the New York Daily News. Russell Banks was a novelist whose book “The Sweet Hereafter” had just been adapted to the screen. Naj Wikoff was a well-established artist, consultant and administrator. Nelson Page and Reg Clark operated movie theaters.
John was a certified public accountant.
“I’ve always loved film,” he said. “I lived in New York City for about 15 years and I was always going to the Thalia, the Bleeker Street Cinema, Carnegie Cinema – all these arthouse theaters. So, film was in my blood.”
A packed screening of “The Sweet Hereafter” at the Palace Theater in Lake Placid was a catalyst in creating the film society and what was then known as the Lake Placid Film Forum. Kathleen preferred the word “forum” because it wouldn’t just be an event that showed films. There would be writers’ workshops, filmmaking competitions and interviews with directors.
John and Kathleen’s families were close when the two were growing up. John was good friends with her younger sister, Mary Claire. Being more than 10 years younger than Kathleen, John looked up to her and viewed her as leading an exotic lifestyle.
“Mary Claire would talk about her sister living in New York City, working as a film critic,” he said. “Kathleen was like a rock star.”
John may not be at the forefront of the festival’s creative direction, but as treasurer, he handles plenty of behind-the-scenes operations. While people like Kathleen, Alan Hofmanis and Dylan Skolnick picked which movies they wanted to screen and filmmakers they wanted to showcase, John established the society as a nonprofit, took care of its taxes and submitted grant applications.
Some of his favorite films include “Chinatown,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Easy Rider” and “Bonnie and Clyde.” John enjoys the Lake Placid Film Festival because it’s not “flashy” and it showcases films with impactful messages even if they don’t garner mass audiences.
“I’m not looking to see the big blockbusters,” he said.
Now approaching its 20th festival, John said Lake Placid and the Adirondacks can offer people more than just sports and recreation, the two main drivers of North Country economy.
“We don’t just support film for our festival,” he said. “We support it as an occupation and as a location. We want filmmakers to come up here and do their work. We host events, screenings and competitions for students. We also support the local movie theaters.”
By the early 2010s, movie distributors quickly began switching to digital options as opposed to traditional film reels.
“It was, like, literally overnight,” John said.
The problem was that many movie houses, especially the independent ones, didn’t have the funds to purchase new digital projectors and screens, which could cost more than $100,000 per theater.
The film society partnered with the Adirondack North Country Association for their “Go Digital or Go Dark” campaign, which raised funds for conversions in independent movie theaters across the North Country.
“It was successful and every one of those theaters was able to get their equipment,” John said.
After two decades of building a film-friendly presence in the Adirondacks, John said it would’ve been impossible without a group effort.
“Every year, we have great programing, and we stay true to our message,” he said. “And that’s not just me, or Nelson or Gary Smith (film society chair). We’ve had great support people in the form of Steve Jonas, T.J. Brearton, Nini Hadjis and Fred Balzac. Those people share an equally important vision of what the society should be.”
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