"The Times of Bill Cunningham," a new documentary film directed...

"The Times of Bill Cunningham," a new documentary film directed by Mark Bozek screening at Cinema Arts Centre. Pictured: Bill Cunningham, Paris, 1970. Photo taken by Jean Luce Hure Credit: Greenwich Entertainment/Jean Luce Hure

Call it the documentary that almost never was. "The Times of Bill Cunningham," Mark Bozek's portrait of the late, legendary fashion photographer, began as a one-minute video clip for an awards ceremony in 1993. More than 25 years later, Bozek's raw interview footage has been transformed into a feature-length documentary that will arrive in theaters Feb. 14. Bozek will bring his film in person to Huntington's Cinema Arts Centre Feb. 1 at 3 p.m.

"I started this as a kind of side project," says Bozek, a first-time filmmaker who compiled an early cut of the movie on a laptop in his Huntington home. "Instead it took over my life for the last two-and-a-half years."

Bozek, 60, may not be a Long Island native — he's from Michigan —but he has a couple of strong connections to the area. For one, he's the guy who discovered East Meadow's Joy Mangano while she was selling her now-famous Miracle Mops on the QVC shopping channel, where he was Senior Vice President of Broadcasting. (David O. Russell's biopic "Joy" featured a version of him played by Bradley Cooper. "I will mention that for the rest of my life," Bozek says). His wife, Susan, hails from Oyster Bay; they moved to Huntington in 2003.

Having also worked in the apparel industry for a time, Bozek was familiar with Cunningham, a self-taught photographer who became famous for his journalistic approach to fashion. Cunningham was a mainstay at The New York Times for nearly 30 years and a contributor to Details magazine; he also mounted several exhibits of his work. At the same time, Cunningham avoided the limelight himself, preferring instead to be known as just another New York eccentric – the old guy on the bike, wearing his trademark blue jacket and taking snapshots all over the city.

Bozek was working as a producer Fox Television, he says, when he began pursuing Cunningham for an interview in 1993. Cunningham refused, but later called back to ask a favor: He was receiving a fashion-industry award and didn't want to attend the ceremony -- would Bozek mind videotaping a short acceptance speech? Bozek grabbed a camera and several Betacam videocassettes and showed up to Cunningham's studio – a kitchen-less, bathroom-less apartment above Carnegie Hall -- for what turned into a non-stop, four-hour talk session. (Cunningham's place was so dark that they filmed in a friend's apartment in the same building.)

Mark Bozek director of "The Times of Bill Cunningham," a...

Mark Bozek director of "The Times of Bill Cunningham," a new documentary screening at Cinema Arts Centre. Credit: Greenwich Entertainment

Bozek isn't sure why Cunningham spoke so candidly that day. "I'm no Barbara Walters," he says. Even when Cunningham began to shed tears – while talking about his own shyness, for instance -- he insisted the camera keep rolling. "After about 45 minutes I realized I should just keep quiet," Bozek recalls. The interview ended only when the tape ran out.

The day of Cunningham's death, in 2016, Bozek dug out those now-obsolete Betacam tapes. He found a company that could digitize them, then began piecing together what would become "The Times of Bill Cunningham." He showed a rough cut to the late photographer's friends, whom he says gave it their blessing; a meeting with Cunningham's niece, Patricia Simonson, who controls his archives, resulted in access to roughly 3 million photographs. A proposal for Sarah Jessica Parker to serve as narrator met with a quick yes. The film is being released by Greenwich Entertainment, which helped release the Oscar-winning documentary "Free Solo" in 2018.

"Some people say he would have hated all this attention," Bozek says of Cunningham. "But other of his friends say the opposite – that in his own way, he would have loved this."

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