Photo by Emily Assiran
The Hyde Park-based film aficionado dishes on celebrities, women in film, and the wildlife in her Hudson Valley backyard.
During the fall months, film critic and author Thelma Adams usually spends less time in her Hyde Park home situated about two miles north of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill Cottage. In another year Adams might be flying to Toronto, visiting Lincoln Center or heading out to the Hamptons to attend a film festival.
Through the pandemic, the prolific writer had longer to linger in her favorite place, her home’s screened-in porch, where she enjoys watching the antics of cardinals, goldfinches, the occasional blue heron, and a pair of wild turkeys she named Bill and Ted after the iconic time-traveling film characters.
“All of Bambi lives on our land,” says Adams, making yet another iconic movie reference. Adams is still writing articles, reviewing festival films seen online; introducing foreign films for a streaming site, working on a novel, and actively promoting the role of women in film.
“I was very fortunate that films have become my day job,” she said. “I love movies.” Her love of film began when her parents, both avid movie-goers, took her to arthouse cinemas, often to see complex films not necessarily created for children.
“My parents were from the old school,” says Adams “They wanted to go to the movies and so they took us. They didn’t think about whether it was an appropriate movie. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, is that appropriate for little kids?” Adams began writing film reviews for college papers at Berkeley and UCLA and, after moving to New York City to work in arts management, she contributed weekly reviews to local city papers, such as the Westsider in Chelsea.
She has written film reviews, essays and celebrity profiles for Yahoo! Movies, Us Weekly, and the New York Post, as well as writing for Oprah.com, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, and Variety. Adams twice served as the chair of the New York Film Critics Circle.
When she first reviewed films most critics were men and thus cinematic merits were judged largely from a male perspective.
“There were not a lot of female film critics,” says Adams. “When I read criticism it did not reflect how I looked at movies and that was a huge impetus for me to go out there and get my voice into the discussion.”
During the course of her career, she has seen an increase in women not only reviewing films but making them.
“I was happy that I was part of the movement, with a number of other people, in advocating for women directing, for women’s stories, for women film critics, for women behind the camera,” says Adams. “I’ve been hugely active in that and part of that was something I did with the Woodstock Film Festival when I first moved here. With Meira Blaustein we initiated what we called The Amazing Women in Film panel. I started being involved with it around 2004, the panel started in 2005, and as guests we have had Deborah Granik, Catherine Hardwicke, Babara Kopple, Mira Nair, Nicole Quinn, Melissa Leo, and Vera Farmiga—people who were really interesting, who were making interesting films in the Hudson Valley or call the Hudson Valley their home base. That was really important to me.”
After moving upstate from Brooklyn almost two decades ago, she began doing more interviews with actors. She conducted so many rewarding celebrity interviews, it’s hard to choose favorites, but she remembers memorable conversations with Melissa Leo, Patricia Clarkson, and Jessica Chastain. She discussed fatherhood with Ethan Hawke, dance steps with Diane Keaton, and enjoyed hanging out with Jason Momoa between two of their scheduled interviews. She describes James McAvoy as fantastic fun and meeting Clint Eastwood for the first time as slightly intimidating, but one moment that stands out happened during her onstage interview of Renée Zellweger at the IFC Center in New York City, when Zellweger’s role in Judy was up for an Oscar.
“She came in, she was very self-effacing and she was dressed very simply,” says Adams. “We introduced her onstage and it was a Screen Actors Guild audience and they just went crazy. I was standing next to her and this was a moment honoring her run for the Oscar she ultimately won. She was shy, but to stand there next to her and feel what a standing ovation is like, to feel that love in the room for her special accomplishments, I found that to be a special moment.”
As well as offering insight on films, Adams has published novels of female-driven historical fiction. Her novel The Last Woman Standing is set in the Wild West. “I wanted to write a western that was female driven, so I wrote a book about Josephine Marcus who was Wyatt Earp’s Jewish wife,” says Adams. “They were together for 50 years, which is just astonishing to me. I had seen so many westerns where the women just didn’t make sense. Even in Tombstone, which is so historically accurate in terms of every button, every uniform, every saddle, and every male character, when it gets to the women characters, they are just like a bunch of geese going across the set.”
She also wrote Bittersweet Brooklyn, a novel that was inspired by her grandmother, who grew up in Brooklyn and was the little sister of a mobster in Murder Incorporated. “They came from a lower to middle class Jewish family and I wanted to go back and look at those stories that no one ever told me.”
Adams is currently writing a novel set in the Burned-Over district of upstate New York, an area known for fostering suffrage movements and a few cults. She describes it as “a contemporary novel about six generations of spiritual mediums and what it’s like to be a part of that, to have that tradition, to have that power. Spiritualism was a very strong movement in the 19th century and the mecca was in upstate New York.”
Before COVID-19 shuttered film production, the Hudson Valley was an increasingly desirable location for filmmaking. Given all the area has to offer, Adams is confident that film production will return. “People have fallen in love with the area. There’s now Stockade Works, more people that are locally trained, and there are more sound studios opening nearby.”
Adams recently interviewed actress Mary Stuart Masterson at a fundraiser for the Upstate Films arthouse theaters and for Stockade Works, the Kingston-based film production hub founded in 2016 by Masterson. According to the Hudson Valley Film Commission, in 2019 more than a dozen films and TV series were shot in the Hudson Valley, including the HBO show I Know This Much Is True, starring Mark Ruffalo, who took home the Emmy this year for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Limited Series Or Movie for portraying twin brothers in the series.
“I love watching that because it has all the beautiful shots of Poughkeepsie and the bridges,” says Adams. “I think the Hudson Valley has an amazing range of wilderness and then places like downtown Kingston that look like old Brooklyn. You have this huge range and you also have this magic light.”
Ask Adams to predict whether movie-goers will return to theaters once the pandemic wanes, and her crystal ball is understandably a little hazier. “We’ll see,” she says. “For me arthouse theaters were always the place where I could find my identity, where I could go to see movies and I could be myself, while being surrounded by like-minded people. I think there is a need for that.”