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Plaza Cinema in Patchogue a hub for aspiring filmmakers

Catherine Oderg, center, executive director of the Plaza

Catherine Oderg, center, executive director of the Plaza Cinema and Media Arts Center, sits with Martin McMillen, left, information technology director, and Anthony Pampinella, Media Arts Instructor, inside the theatre in Patchogue on Tuesday, Sept. 10. Credit: James Carbone

Tucked away in the heart of Patchogue’s art district is what village officials describe as a cozy place for aspiring filmmakers to call their own.

The Plaza Cinema & Media Arts Center, a nonprofit, is possibly the only art house cinema on the South Shore focusing on community and the culture of film, village officials said.

Independent and foreign movies reign over this small box office, where the emphasis is on quality over commercial films.

“You won’t see 'Superman' or 'Iron Man' movies,” but count on those that win an Academy Award, said Catherine Oberg, executive director of the cinema.

The 68-seat theater displays about 95 films per year, and is in the village’s art district on Terry Street, also home to Artspace Patchogue Lofts, an affordable rental housing complex with a first-floor gallery for artists to show off their work.

The complex was part of the original downtown redevelopment that turned Patchogue from a series of boarded-up storefronts to a bustling collection of restaurants, bars and shops.

"Our existence is to cater to the community," Oberg said.

Professors from St. Joseph's College teach film genre classes at the cinema, and the organization has a book-to-screenplay partnership with the Patchogue-Medford Library, where adults will read a novel and then watch the film adaptation at the cinema.

Officials said the Plaza has become a hub to foster film gurus, intellectuals and ideas.

“It’s a multicultural place for exchange,” Patchogue Village trustee Susan Brinkman said. “You see movies you wouldn’t see in big theaters."

The theater also organizes annual events, such as the "Outdoor Film Screening" scheduled for this weekend. 

The Plaza offers filmmaking, production, documentary and animation classes. It also has curated series, festivals, guest speakers, field trips and media literacy workshops.

For example, professional filmmakers discuss what makes a good interview for documentaries and explore focus, editing, shooting, lighting,  camera angles and special effects for free.

"And also how to tell a good story because content is key," Oberg said.

She co-founded the nonprofit about a decade ago when she began screening films on the second floor of the Brickhouse Brewery on Monday nights.

“That place (the upstairs loft) was completely empty, so they let me have it to show films,” Oberg said. “(But) who is going to watch movies on a Monday night?”

She got her answer as the presence of the soon-to-be cinema steadily grew.

More than 17,000 visitors dropped by the cinema in 2017, most of them traveling from within a 35-mile radius. The cinema is open year-round.

Despite having thousands of patrons, village officials said the cinema remains a hidden gem on Long Island. “People are discovering that they can see an independent art house right here in Patchogue,” said village trustee Lori Devlin, the board’s liaison to the arts district.

The third annual "Outdoor Film Screening" runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Isabella Rossellini's farm at 279 S. Country Rd. in Brookhaven, where “Nanook of the North” will be shown.

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