Boondocks Film Society: You Never Know Where It’ll Pop Up Next
The screening of “Miller's Crossing” at Berkshire Mountain Distillers on a chilly May evening.Photo credit: Jon Height, Berkshire Mountain Distillers
Cindy Heslin applies “Clockwork Orange” makeup on Jeff Palfini at the August screening of Laurie Simmons' “MY ART,” which has a scene referencing the Kubrick film.Photo credit: Alexander Farnsworth
The Boondocks Film Society feels kind of like a secret club. Each “event” (far more than just a movie and popcorn) is different, reflecting the arthouse-type of film being shown. It turns up in unexpected, untraditional venues throughout the region. Before the film there may be food and drink. There may be live music or sculpture, puppetry or dance. The only sure thing is that there will be a take-home poster to commemorate the once-only event.
But don’t worry about your FOMO, because it’s not a secret society. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite. Litchfield County residents Jeff Palfini and Cindy Heslin dreamed up the Boondocks Film Society as pop-up evenings, a way for them to satisfy their arthouse movie fix and to help people discover new films and new venues at the same time.
In just a year and a half, Boondocks has hosted 15 events, and will be offering another on October 19. The film: “Spider Baby,” a black horror comedy from 1967, featuring Lon Chaney, Jr. The premise, said Palfini, is completely wacky and perfectly creepy for the Halloween season. For added atmosphere, it’s being shown at the newly opened 5 Harts, a new multi-use property in Dover Plains, New York, where the massive wooden hay barn has big, creaky doors. Spooky.
Spend a few minutes with Palfini and it’s clear he’s one of those walking IMDB film buffs. He got the bug to produce “film nights” when he lived in Budapest for a year. A friend invited people into his home, screened a movie and served some food. Palfini took over when his friend stopped doing it, and began matching the food to the movie.
Later, living in San Francisco with Heslin (whom he met at the Kent Film Festival, even though both were living out west), he helped organize film events, including one in a decommissioned U.S. Mint building, and another for friends who ran a beer garden. When he and Heslin moved back east three years ago to be closer to their families (she grew up in New Milford, Conn.), he still had the yen to create events.
“One day we drove by the Colonial Theatre in Canaan (Connecticut), and saw that there was this really beautiful space that was being underutilized,” said Palfini, a former journalist and now freelance copywriter. “We decided to rent the place and put on a film event. We showed 'Arizona Dream,' a 1993 cult classic starring Johnny Depp, Lili Taylor, Faye Dunaway and Jerry Lewis.” They promoted it, and people came.
And looked forward to the next one. “Better Off Dead,” screened at Catamount Ski Area in Hillsdale, N.Y., featured upscale TV dinners from Prairie Whale and beer from Chatham Brewing; “Miller’s Crossing” at Berkshire Mountain Distillers in Sheffield, Mass. offered a performance by The Vipers of Columbia County, Prohibition-era cocktails and Irish/Italian sandwiches from Rubiner's; “Harold & Maude” at the Wassaic Project was accompanied by a score by Avi Jacob, and Svendale beer.
Most recently, in August, the Society featured renowned artist Laurie Simmons’ debut film, “MY ART,” projected in the walled garden at Troutbeck. Palfini (and the audience) had a conversation with the artist, who lives in Cornwall, about her experiences as a female artist.
“We’re trying to encourage connections and for people to branch out,” said Palfini. Boondocks nights are meant to be social. A happy hour, themed cocktails, the posters and pre-show live performances are immediate conversation starters. A $12 ticket (film only; food is additional) encourages attendance among people of all ages. Each screening has brought out around 100 people, regardless of location, and despite minimal publicity — mostly those posters, flyers and social media.
Besides getting people out of their houses and into their cars to explore new places in the region, Palfini and Heslin, who works as an artist’s assistant, are making it their business to showcase local creativity.
“We have local artists design posters for each event, and print additional copies to give to attendees on the way out,” Palfini said. “That’s been a cool aspect; there are so many artists up here who are up and coming, or established, or semi-retired. We’ve hired great local musicians and partnered with local chefs — and introduced people to places they might never have been before.”
A Boondocks event is not going to be like going to the sixplex, Palfini stressed. “The people who come to the films know it’s Cindy and me doing it all, and there’s going to be a lot of heart in what we do. We’re not projectionists or sound engineers. We always ask for people’s understanding if anything goes wrong. But all the events have turned out pretty well.”
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