Friday, September 18, 2020

Local film enthusiast encourages students, public to attend screenings

White plastic folding tables line the wall of the Newman Center. Sitting atop them are two Bazzano’s pizzas, tiny plastic barrels of fluorescent juice, grocery store baked goods, fruit and raw potatoes. The hum of quiet conversation fills the room as 16 people sit in front of a projector screen, waiting for the next film in Andy MacDougall’s series of screenings, “One Potato, Two Potato” to begin. Before the feature film, he showed a Little Rascals short film in honor of Valentine’s Day.

“One Potato, Two Potato” is a black and white film from 1964. It tells the story of a divorced white woman and a black man who fall in love and the social repercussions they face. The woman’s ex-husband comes back into town and takes her to court, in hopes of getting custody of their daughter, who he has no relationship with.

MacDougall has been playing movies on 16mm film in the Newman Center for eight years.

“They’re very good to me here at the Newman Center,” MacDougall said. “I owe them a huge huge debt of gratitude for allowing me to have this venue. There is no other place where I would have the freedom the Newman Center has graciously granted me.”

He started collecting movies on film in high school, renting them from catalogues. After high school, he attended Plattsburgh State from 1979 to 1984. He spent these years lugging his projector up and down stairs to dorm parties. These gigs helped pay his way through school.

MacDougall made many efforts to raise the student attendance at his showings, but hasn’t been satisfied with the turn out. He puts fliers all over campus and recently started getting his events put into the Student Digest, a daily email that reaches every students’ inbox.

“One Potato, Two Potato” had two PSU students in attendance.

He said he believes one of the reasons it’s so hard to get a large turn out for the films is the stigma around old black and white films.

“There is a very dismissive attitude toward anything non-digital at this point,” MacDougall said. “The whole Marvel Universe franchise is dumbing down and numbing the receptors that may enable anybody, not just students to be open to anything that I have to offer.”

Another factor he said contributes to low attendance is the weather. He hasn’t been snowed out once in eight years but this year his very first screening in January fell on the same day as an ice storm. The second showing happened on the day of a snow storm, and the most recent was on a day the temperature was a high of 16 degrees and a low of -10 degrees.

“What else could happen?” MacDougall said. “Two weeks from now we’re gonna have a hurricane? Space aliens?”

Despite the small number of students at the showings, there is a group of about a dozen people that come to every one.

Claire Vulsui comes to a screening about once a month.

“There are movies you don’t ordinarily see,” Vulsui said. “It’s good to see something that has a social message and that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.”

MacDougall said his main goal is the preservation of history.

“I’m basically a historian, an archivist and preservationist,” MacDougall said. “To keep interest in this medium alive, in my mind, is important because it is organic.”

The next film he will be showing at the Newman Center will be the last “Watermelon Man,” a satirical film about an intolerant racist white man who wakes up black one day. The main character is played by a black actor who wears white make-up for the section of the film in which he is white. It will be shown Saturday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m.

The showings are free, but accepts donations, open to the public and provide refreshments.

“It hasn’t been a cake walk, but it’s been deep down in my DNA,” MacDougall said. “It’s down in my blood, and it’s always been so much a part of my life and my passion that no matter what happens, if only one person shows up, I’ll do it because that’s my mission.”

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