The organization: Best Video Film and Cultural Center
The story: When economies, technologies and markets shift, cherished local institutions close. Business models become unsustainable, and the bars, diners and cinemas fade into the melancholia of nostalgia. Some buck the trend, however, and survive. Hamden’s Best Video is still here, and arguably better than ever.
While you might think of Best Video as a video store, you would be wrong. (You could be forgiven, though, as it was a video store for the last 30 years.) It is now known as the Best Video Film and Cultural Center, and current managers and board members Hank Hoffman and Richard Brown are careful to not use the term “video store.” They received their 501(c)3 designation from the IRS back in February 2016, and now operate as a nonprofit, membership-based video archive. Best Video also does a lot of things that a traditional video rental store would never do. This past fall, Best Video screened an election year-themed film series — From Dr. Strangelove to All The President’s Men — as well as a film series of the work of director John Huston with lectures from Mark Schenker, a senior associate dean at Yale. Even if you’re not a film buff, the music offerings might keep you coming back.
On one evening in November, virtuoso American Primitive guitarist Daniel Bachman made a tour stop at Best Video, with support from local guitarist David Shapiro, who plays under the name Alexander. The small performance space was standing-room only, as movie fans came in and out to collect their films for the Thanksgiving weekend. Patrons rubbed shoulders with touring musicians, while older film buffs exchanged recommendations with younger ones, and vice versa. The algorithms of a streaming service might give you a recommendation, but it won’t be undergirded by the sense of community you’ll find at Best Video.
Hoffman says the music offerings are almost as diverse as a film selection, traversing the spectrum from classical to jazz to punk rock to avant garde. During a show or a film screening you can grab a coffee or a beer, as Best Video has had a tavern alcohol license for years, since back when it was a traditional video store
(a first for a video store, Brown says).
For Hoffman and Brown, and for many of their patrons, Best Video’s purpose extends beyond simply finding a good movie to watch or a show to see. “So much of people’s lives is retreating into the home, it’s retreating out of the public sphere, retreating into the virtual world,” says Hoffman. “To have a place where people can gather, can get out of the house … communities would lose something incredibly important if there aren’t these grassroots places.”
Brown says getting your movies at a place like Best Video, rather than an online streaming service like Netflix, also makes you a better film buff. “If you have environmental concerns, we have scores of environmental documentaries, we have scores of political documentaries, we have scores of documentaries that deal with race, we have a 150-plus director section, so we can go deeply into a body of work. If you’re interested in movies, we’re experts at movies,” Brown says.
Even if you take away the concerts, the film series, the lectures and the other perks, and the breadth of selection is your sole criteria, Best Video blows Netflix out of the water. Netflix has about 5,000 films and 1,600 shows in its U.S. digital catalog.
Best Video Film and Cultural Center has more than 30,000 titles, according to Hoffman. For $10 a month, you can take out one movie at a time for four days, with no late fees, and attend one free show a month.
If you live in the area (and even if you don’t), stop in and be reminded that culture does not live on a screen. It is created and enjoyed by flesh-and-blood people.
If you have an organization with an event that you’d like us to consider for the Community page, please send the details to email@example.com.