To the average American, Lake Placid, N.Y., is probably most recognizable as the location of the 1980 Winter Olympics and the famous "Miracle on Ice," when a scrappy U.S. hockey team sent a heavily favored Soviet squad back to the USSR with their tails between their legs. But for film buffs, the vacation oasis on a lonely stretch of Route 86 has become a go-to destination for cinema.
On June 8, the 15th Lake Placid Film Forum kicks off with a 40th anniversary screening of Rocky. The five-day film fest concludes June 12 with By Sidney Lumet, a documentary about the prolific director whose caustic satire of the television industry, Network, lost the 1976 Oscar title to Sylvester Stallone's titular pugilist.
LPFF cofounder and artistic director Kathleen Carroll, a Lake Placid native, has a personal connection to both of the festival's bookends. In the mid-1970s, when Carroll was working double duty as a movie critic for the New York Daily News and as a film professor at St. John's University, the then-unknown Stallone asked if she would screen Rocky for her students. He wanted to gauge their reactions, sitting unobserved at the back of the theater. When the screening ended, Carroll remembers, Stallone walked to the front of the room and received a standing ovation.
Carroll was also present on the set of Network, where she was struck by Lumet's deft touch as he guided eventual Oscar winners Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch through screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky's intricately layered dialogue.
"It was great to see Sidney with Faye Dunaway, who was clearly very skittish and nervous, and he was very sweet with her and gentle," Carroll recalls. "It gave me a much better understanding of the pressure that you face in these situations, and how it's something of a miracle when a film really works. There's so much to deal with."
The Adirondack Film Society has had a lot to deal with in recent years. The nonprofit parent organization was forced to cancel the Lake Placid Film Forum in 2014 owing to a drying up of corporate funding. The Film Forum resumed the next year following the establishment in 2014 of the Adirondack Film Society Screening Series, a monthly program that runs from roughly September to April at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.
Fred Balzac, operations manager of the film society, admits that the organization is "somewhat in rebuilding mode" but says he's "particularly excited about the range of films we have this year."
The program for the 2016 Film Forum contains a mix of classics like The Third Man and Charlie Chaplin's The Kid and recent releases, such as the Oscar-nominated Carol and the biopic Born to Be Blue, starring Ethan Hawke as ill-fated jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. There's also a strong documentary focus, from Don't Blink — Robert Frank — a profile of the innovative documentary photographer — to Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, a meditation on the digital age from 73-year-old New German Cinema patriarch Werner Herzog.
In keeping with the event's tradition as a forum — not a festival — there's no shortage of guest speakers. Accompanying the screening of Robert Klein Still Can't Stop His Leg will be director Marshall Fine and his influential standup comic subject. The Lumet documentary will feature a discussion by its director, Nancy Buirski, and actor James Tolkan, the Lake Placid resident who appeared in Lumet's Serpico and Prince of the City.
"We wanted to distinguish it a bit, and also really make it more of a comfortable environment where you could come and really talk seriously about film," Carroll says of the origin of the forum format. "You get so much more out of the experience if you understand a little bit about the creativity and what went on behind the scenes."
The thematic spotlight this year is Canadian cinema, including Winnipeg native Guy Maddin's experimental The Forbidden Room and Andrew Cividino's Sleeping Giant, which won Best Canadian First Feature Film at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
The Canadian theme also brings things full circle for the Lake Placid Film Forum, which was established at the turn of the new millennium following a sold-out screening of The Sweet Hereafter, the 1997 movie adaptation of LPFF cofounder Russell Banks' novel. The film version was adapted by Canadian writer-director Atom Egoyan, whose latest movie, the Nazi war-crime revenge drama Remember, will be screened on June 9.
Despite the madcap push to finalize a film schedule just weeks before opening night, Balzac calls his position as AFS operations manager "the best nonprofit job in the North Country." He says that moviegoers of all stripes should find something of cinematic value to enjoy at the Forum even as they weather Hollywood's summer superhero onslaught.
"It's something for everybody," Balzac says. "It's for filmgoers looking for something beyond the latest blockbuster."
The original print version of this article was headlined "Beyond the Blockbuster: The Lake Placid Film Forum Turns 15"