The Hippo


Jul 16, 2019








Movies off the beaten path
NHTI film series draws a steady audience


There are thousands of films released each year and the majority of them don’t have a distributor. Quite a few are independent films and many probably wouldn’t be seen at a commercial theater. That doesn’t mean you can’t see those films — the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord has spent the last 11 years seeking them out for its film series, particularly those that are a little edgy.

Stephen Ambra, who coordinates NHTI’s film series, said the series is billed as featuring classic, independent and foreign films. It shows between 10 and 15 films each year from September to June.

“I think it’s a great resource for the community, for the region, for the state, just to bring a real passion for film, and it’s been matched by just how passionate our filmgoers are,” said Ambra, who is director of learning services at NHTI’s library.

The series features “good, solid films that if they had a chance to be seen, people would really appreciate them,” Ambra said. “That’s partly what we’re doing, making those kinds of films available to the college community and the New Hampshire community as a whole.”

“We have a distinct starting time and we’ve been doing this for a number of years,” Ambra said. The series starts in September with the Manhattan Short Film Festival and runs typically every other week following the festival with showings on Fridays. The showings draw an average of 75 people to Sweeney Auditorium at NHTI, Ambra said. The auditorium holds slightly more than 200 people.

NHTI started its winter season last week with the film A Dolphin Tale, which Ambra said he would call mainstream, but the film was chosen to help garner support for the disabilities initiative that takes place at NHTI. The school will air a re-mastered version of the 1948 classic film He Walked By Night on Friday, Feb. 17.

In choosing films, Ambra said a lot of films come up in discussions with members of the Film Society. Sometimes, he’ll look to tie films in with events. The showings are primarily geared toward the college but are open to the public. Admission is free, though NHTI will take donations.

“A lot of people who attend also suggest films,” Ambra said. “That’s what we like to see.”

“We pride ourselves…in trying to get films that haven’t been seen in this area,” Ambra said, noting the 2009 film Pianomania. NHTI has teamed up with the state film office for a number of years. NHTI’s season ends around June, when it is a host site for the New Hampshire High School Short Film Festival.

“We’ve seen tremendous films from young filmmakers from all over the state,” Ambra said. “It is just great. All the different high schools, they’re all really creative filmmakers with tremendous promise. I’ve been on the jury a couple times and it’s very difficult because all the films are such high quality.”

The film series has become a destination, Ambra said.

“We have a solid core of people who come from as far away as northern Massachusetts, the Upper Valley, the Seacoast,” Ambra said. “They’re looking for good quality films that they can’t see any other place.”
NHTI has previously partnered with Red River Theatres, an independent movie theater in Concord, as well as with local film guru Barry Steelman.

“There’s just so much film out there,” Ambra said.

“It’s quite a swath of the community, depending on the film,” Ambra said. “The Manhattan Short Film Festival, we have people coming from as far away as Boston, Springfield, Mass., [or] Vermont. That draws folks.”

When people watch the Academy Awards, they might wonder why many of the featured films didn’t come to their area. Ambra tries to get his hands on those films.

“We’ve had some incredible success,” Ambra said.

He noted the showing of Bowling for Columbine, a Michael Moore documentary about the gun culture in this country, filled up four different showings at NHTI.

A film by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky called The Mirror drew people from all over New England, Ambra said. Another popular film was Alice Neel, about the 20th-century portrait painter. The film was done by Neel’s grandson. Ambra said NHTI had to bring the film back by popular demand.

Ambra also noted the film 3, by Tom Tykwer, who also produced Run Lola Run. The film 3 won’t be available in the region commercially, so Ambra said he was particularly pleased to get his hands on that one.

“A lot of the films cause a lot of questions, a lot of discussion, whether they like or dislike it,” Ambra said.

“It’s very comfortable,” Ambra said. “There’s great line of sight. It’s climate-controlled…. It’s a great venue.”

Call Ambra at 271-7185. Visit

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