Doug Jones, Images Cinema

Doug Jones, executive director of the 104-year-old Images Cinema in Williamstown, says community engagement is key to enabling independent nonprofit theaters like Images to continue and to survive. “You know who the people are who are coming in to buy the tickets. You know the people who are buying the popcorn,” he says.

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PITTSFIELD — Doug Jones has spent his entire life either absorbed with or working in jobs that have something to do with the film industry.

As a boy growing up in Minnesota, Jones would grab his cereal bowl on Saturdays and spend the morning watching cartoons. As an adult, Jones has served as a curator, programmer, freelance writer of film reviews and articles and as the head of a small independently owned cinema.

He currently serves as executive director of the 104-year-old Images Cinema in Williamstown. It’s a position he has held since coming to the Berkshires in 2014 from California, where he had worked in film festivals.

We spoke with Jones recently about how he fell in love with films, why he never wanted to do anything else, and how Images stays competitive in the era of the cineplex and multiplex cinema complexes.

Q: Why did you leave California to come here six years ago? Judging from your resume, your current position is much different from what you’ve done before.

A: I had been working in film festivals and film things in California for 20 years or so, first in San Francisco, then in Los Angeles. But, I reached a certain time in my life, both personal and professional, where it was time to look for something new and different. So, I was looking all around to see what jobs and opportunities were out there.

My wife is originally from Boston. She went to school in Newton. She was the one who actually saw the posting for Images. ... It was a combination of moving to the East Coast to be closer to her family, which was something we had talked about, but also moving into a community and running a nonprofit movie theater with such a deep history in the area. That was really attractive.

I started out at 14 working in a movie theater. ... The idea of coming full circle strongly appealed to me at that time.

Q: What is it about cinema and movies and the whole culture surrounding them that has attracted you since you were 14?

A: It’s always just been ingrained in me.

When I was a little, little kid, I would get up and get my bowl of cereal and watch Saturday morning cartoons all day long. On Sunday, I would get my bowl of cereal and watch Academy Award [movies]. I was just a movie kid.

I think it’s just that opportunity to kind of sit down and lose yourself in some other story, whether it’s something that’s action-packed and fantastic or quiet and serious. It’s that idea of it being a window to all of these experiences that I myself, personally, am never going to have, but I can live it or experience it for a little bit while I’m watching a movie.

Q: A lot of kids grow up loving the movies a lot and watching them all the time. But, you’ve really lived it. You majored in film, cinema and video studies in college (Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn.). So, how did you get involved in it professionally?

A: I went to school as many kids do, thinking I’m going to be the next George Lucas or Spielberg or Scorsese. Then, I kind of rather quickly realized that making films wasn’t exactly what I should be doing.

I pivoted pretty early to the idea that I could be a conduit to help people. I knew all of the great films that I was excited about watching, and if I could be the person to help bring all of these films to other people, that was something that I could take a lot of satisfaction in. ...

Out of school, I started working in the film society in Minneapolis. ... Then, I just kept moving step by step, from selling popcorn to selling tickets and then, eventually, kind of working behind the scenes booking and promoting films on the local level and then working with film festivals.

Q: What other kinds of jobs did you do?

A: My first job at a film festival, I was the point traffic person, which means I was the guy responsible for getting the films to the film festival and then shooting them on to wherever they were playing next. This is the time when movies came in big metal cans and they weighed about 50 pounds each. ...

I would have a dozen films in my hatchback, driving around breaking my shocks but getting the movies to the theaters. It was a progression, step by step. Every new thing I did was built on the previous things I did.

Q: Have any of your jobs in the film industry been more rewarding than the others?

A: You know, they’re all bits and pieces of the same thing.

One of the most favorite jobs I ever had was when I was working in a video store. That was great, because I could go in and still talk to people all day about movies, and the only skill that was required of me was that I knew the alphabet to make sure something was in the right order. ... It’s like using the same ingredients to bake different cakes.

Q: What makes a good film, in your opinion?

A: There’s no provable formula. There are all these different elements that come into play, and I think, each film, you have to kind of approach on its own merits. ... Sometimes not everything comes together, and sometimes films don’t quite work. But, when you find the time when it hits just right, there’s nothing better.

Q: What’s it like running a small nonprofit independent theater like Images when you’re competing against cineplexes and multiplexes?

A: I think one of the things that allows independent nonprofit theaters, single-screen theaters like Images, to continue and to survive is just the amount of community engagement. You know who the people are who are coming in to buy the tickets. You know the people who are buying the popcorn.

A lot of multiplexes are big businesses. They’re franchises and have theaters all over the country. But, there’s not necessarily that personal connection that you get from your independent neighborhood theater. Images has been creating that here on Spring Street for over 100 years. That’s a rare thing.

We have people coming in and telling us stories about how “My parents or grandparents came here on their first date and sat in the back row and had their first kiss there,” or you get people coming back during reunion weekend at Williams saying, “I remember coming here in the ‘60s, when the entrance was over here and you sold candy over there and you were showing double features of Humphrey Bogart movies. ...”

In the same way certain movies stick with people throughout the years, when you have the warm nostalgia for what you saw as a kid or a young person, that holds true for movie theaters, too. You remember seeing a particular movie at a particular theater, and that’s just part of the whole experience of it. ...

There are people who go on vacation and go to baseball stadiums all across the land, but there are also people who go on vacation and visit movie theaters. ... Theaters have reputations. They become their own persona, their own personality.

Q: If you hadn’t gone to work in the film industry, what would you have done?

A: Well, when I was a little kid I wanted to be a superhero. Then I wanted to be a country-and-western singer. Honestly, that’s one of those questions that I don’t have a good answer for. I don’t know what I would have done. ...

From my first job, and even before that, it was always film. I was a film kid as a little kid, then I grew up to be film guy.


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