Huntington’s Raj Tawney Connects to the Past, Through Classic Film

 

If you’ve noticed a North Shore resurgence of film screenings of times past – think: Frank Sinatra, Joan Crawford, Alfred Hitchcock and others – chances are  Cinema Arts Centre’s Raj Tawney is behind it.

At 31, Tawney, is a publicity director at Cinema Arts. But he’s also an intergenerational ambassador of sorts. One week he’s speaking at a film festival, the next, at campus or a museum, harkening U.S. history through classic movies.

He’s serving up a glimpse of earlier eras against the backdrop of current events and a peek at the future. Armed with 21st Century tools, including social media and podcasts, Tawney is sparking dialog for people of all ages.

“I’m this young person who appreciates past and nostalgia,” Tawney said.

This much is evident from his wardrobe. On a recent Thursday evening, for instance, he donned a suit jacket and vest, complete with a pocket square and necktie, paired with jeans.

He disagrees with the notion that millennials aren’t interested in classic films, as reported in 2017 in the New York Post.

“Young people do want to come out and watch old movies, and participate in discussions,” he said.

Such discussion has the potential to stretch deep.

“I want to use media as a way to reach people, educate them and enlighten them,” he said about his presentations. “We’ll have a conversation about the film, and have a conversation about our society.”

Tawney points to a recent Gold Coast International Film Festival screening of “Pal Joey,” at a sold-out Port Washington movie house at which he moderated a Q&A with AJ Lambert, the granddaughter of Frank Sinatra, the film’s star.

At the Q&A, Tawney asked Lambert life lessons millenials could learn from Sinatra.

The takeaway, Lambert said, is “being super prepared and working really hard to make it look easy.” And asked about her grandfather’s life outlook she said, “He was completely intolerant of racism in any form, bigotry in any form.”

It’s been a busy year for Tawney. In January, he introduced Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 film “Shadow of A Doubt” to filmgoers at The Museum of Modern Art. In April he guest-spoke at a film lecture at LIU Post. And in May, he presented a new series “Classic Movies that Transcend Generations” at the Port Washington Public Library. He’s had essays published about classic films across the country, including The Desert Sun, Miami Herald, Newsday and elsewhere.

Tawney seems to have spent his life building to this moment, with classic movies largely at the center.

“Growing up, my grandmother exposed me to all these films,” said Tawney, who grew up in Commack and studied professional communications at Farmingdale State College.

Early in his career, he worked at Huntington’s Book Revue, serving as director of new media, which led to interviews with visiting celebrities including Jessica Alba, Dennis Rodman, Al Roker and others.

“It was a great testing ground,” he said.

Tawney went on to serve as public relations and media manager at the Huntington Arts Council, a stint that included managing publicity for Sparkboom, a New York State grant-funded program that brought music and arts to the region.

Now, with his focus is on classic film, Tawney is homing in on moments that help moviegoers make sense of current events. That can bring comfort to those troubled by reports of increased hate groups, cyber-bullying and more.

“It’s an interesting time to live because the negative parts of society are influencing the positive parts,” Tawney said. For example, in the age of #MeToo, “we are seeing more female narratives,” he said, pointing to “Lady Bird,” the Oscar-nominated film written and directed by Greta Gerwig, and also “Battle of the Sexes,” about Billie Jean King.

And he noted, “’Casablanca’ would not have happened if World War II hadn’t happened. A beautiful love story was created – it was a beautiful art form in the darkest time. “

For Tawney, these films all have something in common. They offer a connection, he said, encapsulating a period “and telling a story of its own time.”

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