Billy Joel, Other A-Listers Donate to Purchase of Sag Harbor Cinema

What the Sag Harbor Cinema could look like in the future. Sag Harbor Partnership

Fund-raising momentum is building for the purchase of the Sag Harbor Cinema property. Big names such as Billy Joel, who owns a house just a few blocks away, Martin Scorsese, an occasional visitor to the area, and Harvey Weinstein, who owns a house in East Hampton, have recently joined the campaign. 

The Sag Harbor Partnership, a community group that has inked an $8 million deal with the current owner to puchase the property, said that it will name the cinema's popcorn stand after Mr. Joel in honor of his donation. While the partnership declined to say how much Mr. Joel had donated, a $500,000 donation was listed as a naming opportunity for the popcorn stand on the partnership's website. 

“He knows exactly how much the sign and the cinema mean to all of Main Street," Nick Gazzolo, the president of the partnership, said. "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.”

In the days after the fire on Main Street in December, Mr. Joel paid tribute to the cinema during a concert at Madison Square Garden, playing Ennio Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso” on the piano.

The partnership has to raise the money to purchase the property and has until the end of the year to close. The group needs to raise about 75 percent, or $6 million, in donations and pledges by July 1. When the group announced that it had reached an agreement with Gerry Mallow, the current owner, in April, it already had $1 million from an anonymous donor. So far, $2.25 million has been raised.

Plans include rebuilding the facade and repairing the iconic Art Deco neon sign, and rebuilding and repurposing some of the space. The group wants to establish a Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, a not-for-profit that would expand on the cinema's tradition of art house film programming with educational initiatives for school-age children and residents. The partnership's April Gornik said estimates for the construction project are $4 million to $5 million at a minimum.

Preliminary plans include creating two theaters and a private screening room, all with state-of-the-art equipment and a new sound system. The theaters are to feature projection ratios "that will allow film to be shown as it was intended, and give the house the ability to show digital, 35mm, and even 16mm with astonishing resolution, so that the viewer experience will be as the filmmakers had intended," the partnership said in a press release. "This will be a plus that few other art houses anywhere offer, and will make the emphasis on offering film history as well as contemporary movie-making a reality."

“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," Mr. Scorsese said in the release. "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.”

An advisory board has been put together to help develop the plan for the cinema. Members include the Oscar-winning actress, singer, and author Dame Julie Andrews, Anne Chaisson, the executive director of the Hamptons International Film Festival, and Andrea Grover, executive director of Guild Hall in East Hampton.

All donations are tax-deductible and can be made online through sagharborcinema.org. All pledges will be canceled and all donations refunded if the campaign goal is not reached by the end of the year.