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Saturday, July 4 Entertainment

Stamford’s Avon Theatre offers online film screenings

The Avon Theatre Film Center in Stamford, a purveyor of independent, documentary and foreign-language films, has begun streaming movies to satisfy film buffs coping with the state’s stay-home order in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We went (to online screenings) pretty early on; we closed a day or two before the government actually asked us to,” the nonprofit’s executive diretor Stuart Adelberg said in a recent phone interview. “We made our decision out of an abundance of concern for our employees and our patrons.”

He said the theater began exploring its options once it realized the closure “was not a week or two thing,” partnering with both the independent film studios and distributors to explore streaming options via its website, avontheatre.org.

“We were a quick ‘yes’ as soon as we thought this was a possibility, because we noted that people were really going to miss coming to the Avon,” he said. “It’s definitely a partnership. We’re trying to help each other out. We’re all part of an industry that’s very challenged by what’s going on and so we’re trying to best we can for each other.”

He said the transition was smooth for the theater, because the distributors were responsible for setting up the online presence. “We don’t have the technical staff to do this kind of thing, but they do, so again that was the reason why it needed to be a partnership,” Adelberg said.

As he spoke, the theater was offering eight selections, including “The Times of Bill Cunningham,” “And Then We Danced” and “Beanpole,” with more to come. The films cost $12 or less, with the number of viewings available dependent on each rental.

“I don’t think streaming a movie in your living room will ever replace the experience of coming to our beautiful theater and sharing the experience with other people but since that’s not possible right now, this is the next best thing,” he said.

Adelberg, who watched three movies over a recent weekend, said most patrons are viewing the films on tablets, laptops or their computers.

“I actually did figure out how to connect my iPhone to my TV with a wire so I was watching it on my TV as well,” he said. “Depending on your age, I think people are very used to watching things like this on their laptops and tablets. That’s how it works. It’s very easy. It worked without a hitch for me.”

He said he didn’t have numbers on usage yet. “We are waiting on reports from the distributor, but we know people are very interested. We know from social media, people are thanking us for offering it.”

The theater is relying on various ways to reach the public about the streaming option.

“Mostly social media, word-of-mouth,” he said. “We do have a very large email list, so we do send out an e-blast every Thursday. If people want to know, one of the easiest ways is to go to our website and sign up for our e-blast, which again is what we do when the theater’s open, basically saying what’s playing at the Avon, so we’re continuing to do that every Thursday with our new offerings as well. But again, they can go to our website any time as well, and all (the movies) are right there on the homepage,” he said.

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While the doors of the refurbished 1930s showplace are closed, the staff continues to be paid, Adelberg said.

“We are a nonprofit and our staff is our family and so they are not just employees. We are all part of the Avon family. Right now all of our staff continues to be employed. We’re doing our best through donations and we are hoping we’ll see some of the help that the government is providing through the Small Business Administration, but that hasn’t happened yet. But we’re hopeful and optimistic. We’re trying our best, because we don’t want our staff to suffer any more than necessary, obviously.”

As for the future, Adelberg doesn’t foresee online screenings as an option in addition to onsite screenings.

“I kind of doubt it. I’ll never say never because we’re always open to learning and trying new and different things,” he said. “We’re trying to be vibrant and always looking to doing the best we can for our patrons, but what we know is that our patrons really feel very strongly that what they love about the Avon is coming to the Avon.”

Still, it’s currently the best option available, he said.

“Again, I think we’re doing this because this is the best alternative we have right now. And I think’s it’s a good alternative, but I think ideally we truly want to get people back into the theater as soon as we can. That’s the experience we’re providing and that’s what people love about going.

“We love the movies. We think we’re in the storytelling business and frankly in tough times getting people to cut off the news and maybe get a little inspiration and entertainment and education by watching a great film is a great way to divert yourself from the difficult times we’re in.”

pquinn@ctpost.com

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