A Conversation with James O’Hanlon

The Bridge recently spoke with James O’Hanlon, the owner of the Savoy Theatre on Main Street in Montpelier.

The Bridge: It’s been a year since you took the helm at the Savoy. What were you hoping to achieve? What’s that first year been like? What have been the high points?  What have you learned?  Any surprises?

O’Hanlon: It has definitely been an eventful year. I have learned a lot, and I feel that I still have a lot more to learn. My main objectives remain the same. I want to find ways to make the theater sustainable and maybe even profitable someday. I want to create a positive environment for the people who work here and a welcoming and comfortable environment for the people who come here as patrons. I want people to remember the films they see here, and I want to be able to provide diverse content for our very diverse clientele. I also want to create a unique destination for people coming from out of town and also for the people who live here in Central Vermont.

The high point came last winter. We had a run of excellent films, and the crowds were there to back it up. It was very satisfying to feel that the films we were playing were resonating with the audiences here. It was also fun having the theater so full. It was good to know that this place can be successful.

The summer was unexpectedly slow and I had also started working with a new film booker, so it was a surprise to see the audience numbers shrinking. The unseasonably warm weather we had this past month was like a continuation of an already dreadful summer. Last year we were seeing good crowds from August through mid-October, so this has been concerning.

I learned that showing more serious films in the summer is not a good strategy. I have also learned that showing only serious, somber, and dark films is not the best approach. People here like serious films, but they also come here for entertainment, so I need to find a balance and provide both.

The Bridge: Was the March festival a success?

O’Hanlon: I thought the festival was a success from our perspective. We had very few technical issues, the staff was on top of it and kept up with the crowds. The festival organizers have their own ways of measuring success, but I felt like we did our job better than I anticipated.

The Bridge: Over the past year — what have been the hit films? What’s coming up that people will want to know about? Special events? Preparations for the next Green Mountain Film Festival?

O’Hanlon: I am excited about a few upcoming films, but in particular “Ladybird,” “3 Billboards,” and “The Shape of Water” look really good. So does “The Florida Project,” which opens here at the end of the month. We are rebuilding our relationship with local auteur Jay Craven and that is exciting. The festival has a new curator, Karen Dillon, and I think we are all excited to see what she will bring to the festival next year. Karen played a minor role in the festival this year, and she is keen to try out new things. I am a big fan of that, because I like to try new things here too.

The Bridge: What about the upstairs and downstairs configuration at the Savoy? How’s that going?

O’Hanlon: I am working on using the downstairs space to host more special events. We have a few scheduled in the coming weeks, including an interactive event around the film “California Typewriter.” We are also working with local comedian Maggie Lenz to run a monthly comedy show featuring B-movies. It’s a lot of fun and brings in new people.

The Bridge: Who is working for you at the Savoy, out front and running the films?

O’Hanlon: I am on-site a lot and I do a fair amount of the projecting here these days. I like being around so that I know what is going on. I love my staff and they are all very invested in the success of the theater. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by the good people who work here and also those who continue to support our mission in other ways.

The Bridge: Are you seeing innovation and exciting development in the filmmaking world? Can you talk about this?  We’ve heard that “21 X NY” is a unique film, for example.

O’Hanlon: Film is so accessible to so many people that it is reflected in what we are now seeing. Pretty much anyone can make a decent film with minimal equipment now, so those who have a creative vision are much more free to express it and even find an audience. This didn’t really exist so much until the last decade or so. I am always excited when I see something new like “21 x NY.” It is always a risk picking up a film like that. We are the first theater in the U.S. to show this film, so there are no reviews and very little information to draw from to help promote it. The trailer hooked me though, so I decided to see if we could play it. The turnout has been low as one would expect in this area, but the people who have watched it have really liked it. Not all films are for all audiences though, so I put a film like this in my downstairs space and at a later time slot.

The Bridge: What else should the readers of The Bridge know about the Savoy?

O’Hanlon: I am 100 percent committed to keeping this theater alive and vital. There is no way I could do it without the support of the community here. This local treasure is the sum of its parts and that includes the people who work here as well as the people who come here. All of us are what make it special.

Jay Craven’s new film, “Peter and John” to play Savoy

Jay Craven’s new seaside film drama, “Peter and John,” will play the Savoy Theater in Montpelier, starting Friday, October 27.  Nightly showtimes are 6 pm, except for Friday, October 27, when showtime will be 6:30 pm. The Friday showing will include an introduction and question-and-answer session with director Craven.

“Peter and John” marks Craven’s eighth narrative film based in New England -— and it was nominated for a 2016 New England Emmy.  The director’s previous pictures include five collaborations with Vermont writer Howard Frank Mosher, among them “Northern Borders,” with Bruce Dern and Genevieve Bujold, “Disappearances,” with Kris Kristofferson, and “Where the Rivers Flow North” with Rip Torn, Tantoo Cardinal, and Michael J. Fox.

“Peter and John” is based on the 19th century novel “Pierre et Jean” by Guy de Maupassant and it is set in 1872 Nantucket, during the island’s “ghost period”— after the decline of whaling, before the rise of tourism, and in the New England shadow of the Civil War.  The film tells the story of two brothers whose relationship strains when the younger one receives news of an unexpected inheritance—and both brothers become attracted to the same young woman who arrives on their island.

A film trailer can be seen at: https://vimeo.com/116906319

“Peter and John” stars 2014 Golden Globe winner Jacqueline Bisset (“Bullitt,” Truffaut’s “Day for Night”); Christian Coulson (“The Hours,” “Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets,” “Nashville”); Shane Patrick Kearns (“Blue Collar Boys”); Diane Guerrero (“Orange is the New Black,” “Jane the Virgin”); and Emmy-winner Gordon Clapp (“NYPD Blue,” “Matewan,” “Eight Men Out,” “Glengarry Glen Ross”). 

Tickets are available at the door or by going online to savoytheater.com.  For more information go to www.KingdomCounty.org.  Or contact Jay Craven (jcraven@marlboro.edu).

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