In the finishing stages of rebuilding its theater, the board of the Sag Harbor Cinema has announced the appointment of its new executive director, James Hook. Mr. Hook, a filmmaker, producer and non-profit entrepreneur, starts immediately in his new position and fills the vacancy left by Gillian Crozier, the theater’s first executive director, who left earlier this year to be with her family during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Jamie emerged as a superstar candidate to lead our cinema, and I look forward to his interactions with the board as well as with our community,” Board President John Alschuler said. “He will bring experience, a great sense of humor, an engaging personality, and deep intelligence to the position.”
Among the highlights of Mr. Hook’s resume, and relative to the work expected of him in Sag Harbor, is his tenure as the founding director of the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle, where he started in 1995. That theater has grown into a facility that includes two movie theaters, a film production studio and an educational program for students of all ages, youth to senior citizen. The NFF is entering its 25th season this year.
“One thing that’s attracted me to the cinema is that it’s about the room rather than the screen,” said Mr. Hook in an interview this week. That is, he is excited by the people and the community that comes to see the films.
“It’s groups of people sharing an experience,” he said, underscoring the need for movie-viewing as a social event.
He sees the Sag Harbor Cinema as an “old-fashioned community-based theater,” where it thrives and, to a degree, takes its direction from the movie-going community. And he noted the cinema physically holds an important place in the heart of the village.
“It’s a building that anchors downtown,” he said.
Mr. Hook mentioned he worked at a theater that always played “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year. One of the reasons, he said, is that at the end of the movie, when Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey careens down the Main Street of his beloved home town, he calls out “Hello movie theater!”
It’s this kind of feeling that underscores the strong relationship between the theater and its community, he believes.
Among the opportunities he sees in Sag Harbor is working with a younger generation.
“Cinema could become the opera of future generations: not that active in terms of contemporary culture,” Mr. Hook warned. “It could become something we simply preserve, which would be tragic.”
To aid to the vibrancy of film, he’d like to see what students can bring to the medium.
“I’m excited by the fluency of the younger generation with moving images,” he said, “and I’d like to engage that in a dialogue.
“When I come to see a film here, I’d love to see a 30-second or one-minute short made by a local 14-year-old, or 17-year-old,” he added. “Something about North Sea Farms, or some other local place or subject.”
In addition to the Northwest Film Forum, Mr. Hook also ran the Minnesota-St. Paul International Film Festival, according to a release from the Sag Harbor Cinema, and made films including “Vacationland,” with Karen Black, and “The Naked Proof,” with playwright August Wilson in his sole acting role.
Among the challenges Mr. Hook said he will face is “getting people off their duffs and back into the theater.” He’s aware, he said, of the uphill battle of getting people to walk into a movie theater, paying $15 a ticket, when they can watch much of the same content at home.
He declined to say when the Sag Harbor Cinema will open, noting that “tremendous work is afoot,” and many of the systems still need to be tested.
“It’s a new theater,” he said, “no one has even popped the popcorn yet.”