Billy Joel, Martin Scorsese & Harvey Weinstein Join Sag Harbor Cinema Effort

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Some big names, including Sag Harbor’s own Billy Joel, have stepped up to help the Sag Harbor Partnership with its efforts to buy and rebuild the Sag Harbor Cinema property.

By Kathryn G. Menu

Long Island native Billy Joel, who lives part time in Sag Harbor and can often be seen driving one of his vintage motorcycles around the village, has joined the effort to save and rebuild the Sag Harbor Cinema with the Sag Harbor Partnership. Celebrated filmmaker Martin Scorsese and producer Harvey Weinstein have also thrown their support behind the project, the non-profit announced Tuesday night.The theater’s popcorn stand will be named after Mr. Joel for his support, and as a welcome reminder of the musical icon’s ongoing support for the community.

With Mr. Joel’s donation — the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center website lists the naming rights to the popcorn machine at $500,000 — the partnership has raised roughly $2.255 million in tax deductible pledges or donations, or just below 40 percent of the $6 million the non-profit says it must collect in pledges and donations before July 1.

In total, it will cost $8 million to purchase the cinema building from owner Gerald Mallow. It was partially destroyed in a December 16 fire that also claimed several businesses. According to the partnership, it must reach 75 percent of that fundraising total in order to protect the $1 million pledged by another donor. Once it secures funding to buy the property, the non-profit will embark on a second leg of fundraising to amass an additional $5 million to rebuild and redevelop the building.

“Billy has spent so much time in Sag Harbor. He knows exactly how much the sign and the cinema mean to all of Main Street,” said Sag Harbor Partnership President Nick Gazzolo. “It’s so encouraging that he answered the call to help restore this landmark with such a generous gift. So many of his songs show his understanding of how much specific places mean to people, and we are so grateful that he agrees the Sag Harbor Cinema is a special place worth fighting for.”

“His response was immediate, and so very generous,” added Mr. Gazzolo on Wednesday. “And that says so much about him, and also about Sag Harbor. Having that kind of endorsement for what we are trying to do, it is a statement that art matters, that Main Street is worth it, and that the cinema is worth fighting for.”

Mr. Scorsese and Mr. Weinstein — two of the biggest names in film — have also thrown their support behind the project.

“I believe in the power of film not only to entertain, but to bring unsung heroes to life, and to change the world around us,” said Mr. Scorsese, whose directing credits include “Goodfellas,” “Taxi Driver,” and “The Last Waltz.”  “For as long as I can remember, the Sag Harbor Cinema has stood as a beacon of culture on Long Island. On the evening it was destroyed, the cinema was showing two European films, neither of which were considered blockbuster hits, but that wasn’t the point. This theater was about art, and the ability for film to inspire people to persevere in the face of adversity. I hope people from all over the East End will join in this fight to save Sag Harbor’s center of culture.”

“I don’t know anyone who has done more for film preservation, saving old films, restoring films, and having them seen the way they were meant to be seen, than Martin Scorsese,” said Mr. Gazzolo.

“We are focused on film history, film as art, film preservation, and making this as robust and smart as we can,” said April Gornik, the vice president of the partnership.

Major improvements planned for the theater include the addition of spectacular, state-of-the-art equipment provided by Digital Media Systems advisors working with the cinema’s architects. The cinema will have a completely new sound system, and feature projection ratios and equipment that will allow film to be shown as it was intended to be, and give the house the ability to show digital, 35-millimeter and even 16-millimeter films with high resolution, so that the viewer experience will be as filmmakers intended.

The plans also call for the preservation of the building’s Art Deco architecture, including its celebrated façade with its “Sag Harbor” sign.

The non profit’s advisory board also includes luminaries in the artistic world including Julie Andrews, Guild Hall executive director Andrea Grover, Hamptons International Film Festival executive director Anne Chaisson, filmmaker and former executive producer/programming for the Film Society of Lincoln Center Wendy Keys, Hamptons Take-2 Documentary Film Festival executive director Jacqui Lofaro and Carol Ostrow, the producing director of The Flea Theater in Manhattan. Ms. Gornik said the non-profit was having conversations with Bay Street Theater as well.

“We are all talking about making this region — and Sag Harbor — a cultural destination, where we work together to host major events and weekends dedicated to arts and culture,” she said.

“I think people get the urgency of this effort, and that we only have this small window of time, and they want to be a part of it,” added Mr. Gazzolo. “They are waking up to the fact that we are a better Sag Harbor with the cinema, with the building, with the sign, showing great films you might not find elsewhere. People are answering that call, including the Piano Man.”

On Tuesday, May 23, the partnership will host a benefit fundraiser at the HGU New York Hotel. For more information, email info@sagharborpartnership.org. To donate to the project, visit sagharborcinema.org.

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