By Alberto Gilman
After almost 17 years of memories and movies, the Downing Film Center, founded by Brian J. Burke, his wife Sharon and son Kevin, will close its doors officially on Thursday, April 27.
The Downing Film Center was first established in 2006 and is located on the lowest floor of the Yellowbird building on Front Street, a former furniture warehouse. The building eventually housed an art gallery, and today residents now make up the higher levels along with several other businesses occupying the spaces. Since August of 2010, the film center has been recognized and operates as a not-for-profit organization. It has partnered with several organizations such as the YMCA (Social Justice Film Series), the Newburgh Historical Society, the Opera Company of the Highlands, Planned Parenthood, the Newburgh Youth Bureau, LGBTQ of the Hudson Valley, the Newburgh Symphony and Vet to Vet. These partnerships have fostered community awareness and cooperation. Downing Film Center has also partnered with academic institutions such as Orange County Community College, San Miguel Academy, Nora Cronin Presentation Academy and Walden Elementary School for educational events as well.
Originally from Carbondale, Pennsylvania, Burke, the youngest of 10 children, grew up going to watch movies at the local theaters in the area.
“I have been a lover of film since I was like five years old,” said Burke. “I loved movies, I loved the arts. I loved theater.”
Burke recalled that he went to see films at the Majestic Theater as a child, which cost back then 17 cents, and the Irving Theater, which cost a quarter to see a show. As a lover of theater, Burke had applied to the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York but decided to not attend. Later on in life, Burke went on to attend the University of Scranton where he achieved a bachelor of science in French Education and graduated in June 1966. In June 1973, Burke graduated from the State University of New York at New Paltz with a Master of Science in French Education and in December 1987 from SUNY New Paltz again, received a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration and Supervision.
Burke has taught in the Windsor Central School District, the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District where he was the Coordinator of Foreign Languages and served as Assistant Principal in the Cornwall Central School District. Burke went on to serve as principal of Minisink Valley High School and then Cornwall Central High School until retirement. Upon retirement at 55, Burke also spent some time working at Independent Living as a manager of Student and Family Services and served as an adjunct French professor at Mount Saint Mary College. He and Sharon have raised their two sons, now adults, Kevin and Chris, in the area.
In the early years, the theater showed movies on 35 millimeter film before transitioning over to digital in 2011. With the switch to digital, the theater purchased a new $60,000 digital projector system to project the movies to their patrons.
“We showed many films that people in this area wouldn’t have seen if we didn’t show them,” said Burke.
During the COVID pandemic, the Downing Film Center remained closed from March 15, 2020 to October 1, 2021. As the world began to reopen, not only was there still the challenge to navigate the pandemic but also adapt to the streaming services that people became accustomed to during the lockdown to watch films. “Many people who normally came to films, said, “I’m gonna stay home and watch Netflix and Amazon,” said Burke.
The film center did stream movies on their website for their patrons but streaming services continued to keep people at home. The parking meters along Front Street have also been a concern to customers.
“I’m just going to really miss the people. I’m going to miss our employees we’ve had over the years, we’ve had wonderful staff members, they’re wonderful people, they work hard. And they care about films, they care about people,” Burke said. “I’m going to miss the work, I’m going to miss going up to the office at my house. Doing the work and researching and talking to people and doing emails. Thank you [the patrons] for supporting us and being here and really being ,becoming a really major part of my life.”