In the early aughts, Woodstock was still a town where you could let your dog out the front door to wander around the Village Green. The watering holes were always full and you could cross Mill Hill Road without looking both ways. Local art openings were frequent. The gritty, creative, sometimes tortured soul of Woodstock hummed along in a quiet, scrappy way, nurtured by a sometimes gruff-but-goodhearted population of musicians, painters, poets, and business owners.
In a town where the last five years’ influx of new residents, drawn by the eccentric mythology of Woodstock, has pushed out locals, precipitating both a housing and an identity crisis, it is a relief to see something come into familiar hands. When Upstate Films closed their Woodstock location in 2021, the future of the pre-Civil War church at 132 Tinker Street was uncertain. The building had been a cinema since the late ’60s and a town fixture.
“I've been a movie fanatic my entire life,” says born-and-bred Woodstocker Andy “Animal” Braunstein, who grew up going to Tinker Street Cinema and poring over Fangoria magazines that he picked up at H Houst & Son. “I’ve been screening movies since I was a kid throwing sleepover parties. It was just something I always wanted to do. Then, when the For Rent sign came up, it just clicked.”
Braunstein calls the programming at Tinker Street “alternative blockbuster,” but it goes beyond Nope and A24 flicks like Marcel the Shell (which starts its run tomorrow), to span a true-blue Woodstock selection. Music films get major billing, like Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis and the upcoming Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream. On August 20, the cinema will screen Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), the pioneering sci-fi film, with a live score. “I love to put in single-night showings of bizarre stuff and old, trashy, horror and sci-fi movies, biker movies,” Braunstein says.
He also seeks out films with powerful women leads (Sister Street Fighter, Citizen Ruth, Spice World, to name a few) as well as local productions. “Chris Finlay made a no-budget doc about the homeless population in Woodstock during the pandemic,” Braunstein says. “That was really cool to be able to show that—the place was packed. It turned into a town hall meeting during the Q&A. I love a little controversy.”
In the past, Tinker Street has screened a handful of old 16mm films, with some 35mm films queued up for the near future. “We get these collectors in, who are always very excited to see their reels played here,” Braunstein says. “We have a decent little collection ourselves. I believe we are the only place in the area that does this."
The vibe at Tinker Street Cinema is playful. Braunstein and his cohorts don’t take themselves too seriously. After all, they’re in the entertainment biz. The boarded-up windows of the old church are irreverently painted to announce current screenings. Upcoming events in the works include a Nintendo Olympics with the old console on the big screen; the return of Gumby matinees for kids of all ages; and the inaugural Mountain Guerrilla Cinema Squad’s Tales from the Catskills amateur film competition. “Anyone who wants to can make these no-budget, 10- to 12-minute movies. They can put any music they want in them because they’re not going to be shown outside this theater.” The submission deadline is Halloween, with a screening planned for Saturday, November 5.
Despite the pandemic-era, direct-to-streaming trend, Braunstein notes an encouraging sea change in the film industry that he thinks bodes well for the future of the silver screen. “I was a little concerned at first, but I believe in this,” he says of business at Tinker Street Cinema. “Since we played Everything Everywhere All At Once back in April, it’s been full-steam ahead. That is the return of filmmaking—stuff aimed just for the cinema. People are getting real clever again.”
For Braunstein, running Tinker Street Cinema is a sort of homecoming. “One of my earliest memories in life is standing outside here and seeing the poster for The Fox and the Hound,” he says. “My mom and her friends would drag me to these artsy movies that I would end up really liking—a lot of movies were like that here. I grew up going to this theater.”