Andy MacDougall at his basement studio in Plattsburgh. MacDougall is taking his 16 mm film show on the road and embracing the lost art of traveling picture shows.
PLATTSBURGH — For Andy MacDougall, film is an organic experience.
And as Hollywood goes full digital and film is phased out, MacDougall is out to “save our friend.”
He’s been accumulating quite the film collection, holding his own film series for quite some time, and now he’s embracing a lost tradition as a picture show man— a traveling film exhibitor.
“I have a traveling 16 mm picture show.”
MacDougall’s basement has been converted to three rooms devoted to film—one is a projection room; another a lab, filled with posters and film hanging from the ceiling; and the third is a theater and museum, with old projectors and film reels lining the walls, as well as film reference books and a t-shaped island of film posters leading to the screen.
“The film we are going to watch is an opening short, and they are not commercially available,” MacDougall said as he navigated around film and surveyed various items, for no reason, seemingly, yet with a precision that indicated a purpose. “I have a number of them that are the only existing prints.”
He owns the only prints to several oddball student films, inherited a 16 mm collection of war and original music videos, and came into vacation footage and travelogues, as well as skiing footage with a jazz score and a dog on the beach. There is also a film of the real mad men, taken from inside corporate headquarters, a puppet show and underwater footage.
“They are phasing out film,” MacDougall said, exiting the room wallpapered with movie posters for the projection booth, where he manually rewinds a short.
“This will only take a few minutes.”
Halfway through, he remembers his train of thought: “Cumberland 12 is down to only two theaters that still use actual film. I have become the new custodian of the collection.”
The short MacDougall shows is in black and white, featuring Jason Bernard in a chess match in which he wins an opponent’s unique chess board. The film has undertones of racism, with the black opponent, shown as the underdog, beating the overconfident white opponent.
A few minutes into the film, MacDougal had to re-loop it to keep it from jumping.
After the film, MacDougall relaxed in his theater and discussed his new idea.
Picture Show Men, or Traveling Film Exhibitors, are difficult to study as their history and records are not well preserved.
They operated around the world, starting in the early 20th century and, in the United States, for example, traveled the country, stopping at ballrooms, public plazas, town halls and church halls to show their films.
“Basically, they were in rural areas where there was no access to theaters, and they set up their projectors,” MacDougall said. “It was a dime for admission.”
In places such as Australia, MacDougall pointed out, Picture Show Men fought for territory.
“What I am trying to do is recapture the spirit of picture show men,” MacDougall said. “I don’t know if I am the last one, but I am the last one in this region. There is nobody between Montreal and Albany.”
In the few months since the film series at the North Country Co-Op, MacDougall has shown his films in places such as the Regina Maria Retreat in Plattsburgh, Edgewater Estates and his basement theater.
On Oct. 27, he will show a film at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts, and on Nov. 17 the Temple Beth Israel will host a film.
MacDougall was asked to show a film at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, but when he discovered “Isla, She Wolf of the SS” was playing, he called for a boycott and declined. He said the film is basically gore porn about the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
“I could not in good conscious align myself with these people.”