Boondocks Film Society produces cool movie events
Photo by Wendy Carlson
When Cindy Heslin and Jeff Palfini first met at the Kent Film Festival in 2010, they knew they shared a passion for indie releases. It wasn’t until Heslin overheard Palfini make an obscure reference to an offbeat ’90s comedy at a pizza joint weeks later that she knew they were kindred spirits. Their story could have ended there: Two film buffs fall for one another over pizza and beers. Instead, after their lives took a few twists and turns, the two launched Boondocks Film Society last year, producing monthly film events throughout the Berkshires, Litchfield County, and the Hudson Valley.
A Boondocks event isn’t your typical movie night out. The films are screened in funky venues—an airport hangar, a ski lodge, a shuttered theater, and, in August, a graveyard somewhere in Litchfield County. Themed cocktails, food, art, and music all play a role in transforming what is usually a private experience (you and your bucket of popcorn and jumbo soda) into a social one (you gleefully clinking your glass, filled with glow-in-the-dark ice cubes, with the stranger seated next to you).
The concept percolated for a few years before it took off. Shortly after they met, Heslin decided to take a four-month, cross-country trip in her van—a solo “walkabout,” she says. She wound up in San Francisco, and Palfini, who had lived there previously, joined her. While they were in San Francisco, they immersed themselves in the area’s robust film scene. One of their favorite haunts was the city’s Castro Theatre, a historical movie palace that hosts repertory movies, film festivals, and special events. In San Francisco, Palfini also helped to produce a film event in a decommissioned U.S. Mint building.
But in 2016, the two decided it was time to take a break from city living and move closer to their families on the East Coast. So, they decamped to sleepy Cornwall. They liked the serenity of living in the northwest corner, and the challenge of discovering all its hidden gems and reclusive creative energy, but they often trucked to theaters as far away as Brooklyn to find movies that were unconventional.
“We were starving for the arthouse programming we had in San Francisco, but there aren’t a lot of repertory cinemas in the area that show cult, classic, or foreign films,” says Palfini, 44, a freelance copywriter.
Then, last spring, they learned they could rent the defunct Colonial Theater, a monumentally ornate Colonial Revival building in North Canaan, Connecticut. “We both love vintage single-screen theaters,” says Heslin, 33, who works as an artist’s assistant. The Colonial, with its plush red-cushion seats and retro styling, proved the right fit for their first screening, Arizona Dream, a 1993 cult classic starring Johnny Depp, Lili Taylor, Faye Dunaway, and Jerry Lewis.
“It’s an American film by a Serbian director that didn’t get a lot attention in the United States, but it has a lot of known actors, which was enough to get people coming out to see it,” she says.
Since then, the couple has held 12 other film events, including Porco Rosso in a hangar at the Walter J. Koladza Airport in Great Barrington, where they served Aviation cocktails; and Better Off Dead in a lodge at Catamount Ski Area, featuring food plated on recycled cardboard “TV dinner” trays, arguably tastier fare than the frozen variety in the cult ski film. On July 14, the venue will be Gedney Farm in New Marlborough, MA featuring Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou. In August, the cult comedy Harold and Maude will be screened in a graveyard in Litchfield County. “Once we find one with some open space, we’ll announce the date,” says Jeff.
With more people watching films at home and online, the couple tries to give viewers a reason to get off their couches. They see Boondocks as a great opportunity to push boundaries and shake things up. To that end, they put a lot of thought into each screening to make each one a special, one-off experience, partnering with local restaurants, breweries, and distilleries to create themed menus. The film posters are designed by local artists; and some movies feature live music by local bands.
They are also trying to draw a younger audience—judging from the abundance of man buns and combat boots in the crowd at any given event, they’re succeeding. One reason is that tickets are only $12 when purchased ahead through their website and $14 at the door. Dinner is usually $12.
Film screenings are posted online in advance, but the menu and drinks are usually kept under wraps until movie night. Says Palfini: “We want to keep people guessing.”