Andy MacDougal, surrounded by 16 mm film in his lab in Plattsburgh.
As a child, Andy MacDougall stuck pillows under his bed sheets and snuck downstairs to watch movies at night with the sound completely turned down.
“The first time I saw King Kong was on a French-Canadian station with the noise turned down so I wouldn’t wake anyone up,” he said. “That inspired my love for genre films.”
Today, MacDougall is working to preserve 16 mm films as a collector and through his own film series at the North Country Cooperative in the City of Plattsburgh.
“I just think the medium is worth observing.”
MacDougall has been a movie buff since watching Mary Poppins at three in the theater with his family.
“My family and I lived in Ithaca and moved to Plattsburgh a year later in ‘65.”
Film geeks, he said, are smitten by the magic of when the lights go down and the image flickers across the screen.
While attending St. John’s School, MacDougall befriended a fellow sixth grader whose family collected 8 mm silent movies. He borrowed one the student brought to school and obtained an old catalog.
I used my allowance from lawn mowing to buy 8 mm movies,” MacDougall said. “That went on for several years before I bought my first 16 mm film.”
Someone gave MacDougall a catalog when he was a sophomore in high school, immediately hooking him on reel-to-reel 16 mm films.
“I used different sources to build my 16 mm collection.”
As a junior, he discovered the classic comedians and took a break from monster movies, becoming completely obsessed with W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers.
“That’s where all my attention went for several years,” he said. “I became a really big fan of Monty Python.”
The National Honor Society enabled MacDougall to conduct his own paper drive. He began accumulating papers in his garage and used the money for film rentals.
“By the time I graduated high school I was buying films and then in college showing them at dorm parties,” he said. “I helped myself through school that way, showing films for money on the weekend.”
MacDougall ended up landing a job with the Inmate Higher Education Program, until its funding was pulled in 1995.
“Teaching film in prison was the most fascinating film experience I ever had.”
Today, MacDougall is trying to sustain some kind of a 16 mm film sanctuary. Between shorts and features, he owns at least 100 individual reels.
“We are the last ones between Montreal and Albany.”
On the last Saturday of each month at 7:15 p.m., he shows a 16 mm film at the North Country Food Cooperative. On Feb. 25 he is showing a documentary on Paul Robeson, in honor of Black History Month. Robeson was an American concert singer, recording artist, actor, athlete, and scholar who was an advocate for the Civil Rights Movement in the first half of the 20th Century.
“I am trying to sustain the medium as long as people are interested,” MacDougall said. “I really want to keep people aware and respectful of an old medium I don’t want to see die. It was the spawning ground for the movies we all know and love.”