“Upstate” Charm of a Theater with the Same Name

As you pull out of Marist College, you can turn two ways.

Turning right will take you in the direction of the Poughkeepsie Galleria Mall, a shopping center that houses one of the country’s 558 Regal Cinemas. The theater is a dime a dozen, with uniformed staff members and police officers guarding the back entrance in case of any high-schooler induced chaos. It offers a copious number of showtimes for films like “What Men Want,” “Aquaman,” “Escape Room,” and more.

Turning left will greet you with a scenic and winding 25-minute drive to Rhinebeck and its crowned jewel, Upstate Films. Showtimes begin around 3:00 p.m., on most days, at least. It is so delightfully modest and valued that its size of facility and staff is misleading. The town is one that shuts down around 6 p.m. It’s pristine and pleasing; that’s the way everyone likes it. It also wouldn’t be what it is without this particularly charming entity.

“I mean, there’s no question that Rhinebeck without Upstate would not be Rhinebeck,” said Joel Griffith, an employee of Upstate Films for 23 years. “Because it’s unique and because it’s not a chain… it’s local flavor. You can go to a Regal anywhere in the country and everything is the same… this is not a commercial experience.”

Founded in 1972 by Steve and DeDe Lieber, Upstate Films has been a staple in the culture of Rhinebeck for 47 years. Since the beginnings of the humble, non-profit arthouse theater, the Liebers has expanded to two theaters, another housed in an old church in Woodstock. Their screens have doubled from one to two in Rhinebeck, giving them the opportunity to showcase more of the art that inspired them to start this project in the first place.

Image result for upstate films woodstock

The Woodstock Theater, housed inside an old church

In 1972, Rhinebeck was nowhere near what it is today. Now, its main stretch of road is filled with shops that are pictured next to the dictionary definition of the word “kitsch.” It’s the type of town that TV-producers love to film in and people love to say they’ve been. It wasn’t always. Once, there was a tavern and a few shops that would be accessed on occasion by those close by.

“Rhinebeck really only had a couple stores… and [the town] was like, ‘well, either try a Chinese restaurant or a movie theater. We’ll try it for, like, a year, maybe. That’s their story,” Griffith said of the Lieber’s, his bosses for two decades. “They didn’t do the Chinese restaurant, obviously.”

The decision has worked. Beyond the aesthetic appreciation of their community, the film community as a greater population has congregated from bordering towns. It’s a humble home for these moviegoers, one that acts as more of an experience than anything else. Membership nears 3,000, because of the people’s desire to, according to Griffith, “see good movies” and the Lieber’s desire to show good movies.

“They want to show good movies. They want to show movies that are thought-provoking, and beautiful, and from all over the world,” Griffith continued. “All the mall movies are the same. Whether it’s Iron Man or Spider-Man, it’s just a lot of explosions. For the cinephiles, this is the place.”

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