Vic Skolnick, the co-founder and co-director of Huntington's Cinema Arts Centre, which began nearly 40 years ago with a library projector and a bedsheet, and grew into one of the country's longest-running and most adventurous venues for independent, foreign and experimental film, died early Thursday morning at home in Centerport. He was 81.
The news was announced in a release from the Cinema Arts Centre Thursday afternoon. No cause of death was given. He is survived by his partner of 60 years, Charlotte Sky, and their son, Dylan, cinema co-directors.
"He was someone who was really passionate and dedicated to his work, to the idea of doing something to make the world better," Dylan Skolnick said. "He really envisioned the cinema as being more than a place where people saw movies, but a place where they really learned. He always wanted to make things more informative, more educational."
Born April 25, 1929, in Brooklyn, Vic Skolnick grew up during the golden age of Hollywood and as a teenager took advantage of New York's many movie houses. "Film was more than a hobby," he told Newsday in 2002. "I went to films when I was quite young, seeing a wide range of international cinema from the time I was 15."
Later, while teaching history at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University - he had obtained his master's degree in the subject from Columbia University - Skolnick still seemed more interested in movies. In 1973, he and Sky hung a bedsheet in a friend's Huntington dance studio and began showing offbeat fare.
As attendance grew, they moved their "theater" - then called New Community Cinema - to larger spaces, finding their current home, a former elementary school at 423 Park Ave. By 1992, the venue was renamed Cinema Arts Centre.
"Vic was my first real film mentor," said David Schwartz, chief curator for the Museum of the Moving Image and an early employee at the cinema. "He was a teacher at heart. He always did his talks before the films, but even in the office we would have these long discussions about movies, about politics, about aesthetics. It was like the whole package."
Skolnick also helped position the venue as a community hub, said Diana Cherryholmes, director of the Huntington Arts Council: "He was extremely generous in letting people use their space for meetings and fundraisers, and that says a lot because there is a tremendous cost in running a not-for-profit. But he was like that: completely generous."
Despite challenges from ever-bigger multiplexes and an expanding home video market, the cinema has persevered thanks partly to Skolnick's willingness to balance repertory programming such as silent movies with new releases of foreign and independent films. The member-supported, nonprofit theater remains the only one of its kind on Long Island.
"The Cinema Arts Centre is a cultural institution on Long Island; it's a tremendous treasure," said David Sprintzen, a board member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition and a 40-year friend of Skolnick's. "It's a tribute to him and . . . [Charlotte] what they have created."
Memorial arrangements will be announced.