Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Creative Adirondacks: Gary Smith of the Lake Placid Film Festival

Gary SmithThis fall, Lake Placid Film Festival will return to a live event, and shepherding it to fruition is Gary Smith, the current Chair of the Board of Adirondack Film Society.  Schooled by his more than 40 years in the hospitality industry, Gary sees the festival as an opportunity to display the attractions of the Lake Placid area, as well as to bring filmmakers and their audiences together for the lively and thoughtful sharing of ideas.

His enthusiasm for film, however, is no greater than many other cultural and artistic expressions. According to Nathalie Thill, Director of Adirondack Center for Writing (ACW), “Gary Smith is a whirling dervish of energy and passion. Gary has been involved with more projects, spanning multiple art forms, than anyone else I know. In everything he gives his time, his heart and his wonderful sense of humor. I’m so thankful the arts community has him on our side. “  Gary also serves on the Board of the ACW.

As Gary has helped to build Adirondack cultural heritage, his own affection for American history is apparent as he tells stories about the places he has lived, as well as those who became inspirational friends along the way.  He shared with me the story of his childhood home, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  No ordinary small town in the Midwest, Bartlesville was the birthplace of the Phillips Petroleum Company as well as the headquarters of the oil pipeline contractor, HC Price Company. In the 1950’s, the spectacular Price Tower, Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper, was built in Bartlesville.   Influenced by its presence, Gary first considered a career in architecture.  But like so many innovative thinkers, Gary path took him elsewhere, first as a young student to work at the Skytop Lodge in the Poconos, next to attend Cornell University’s internationally known School of Hotel Administration and then into the hospitality industry.

He’s worked and managed a number of large hotels and resorts, Tan-Tar-A Resort, in Lake of the Ozarks, Marco Island Beach Resort, and the Desmond Hotel in Albany.  Gary loved his work, and used it as a springboard to organize tourism related events that became nationally known. In 1987 he founded the Desmond American Wine Festival, and inspired the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival in 2001, both of which brought thousands of visitors to the Capital Saratoga region.

Later, while co-owning and managing the historic Hotel North Woods in Lake Placid, Gary organized a weekly author series and other cultural events at the Hotel.  While he no longer owns the hotel, he has continued art and cultural collaborations in the community. One of the most important to Gary is the musical event, Blues at Timbuctoo, which he initiated with Martha Swan, founder of John Brown Lives! (JBL!)  and Jerry Dugger, an internationally known blues musician, in 2015.

“Gary Smith is a gem of a human being, a visionary and dear friend,” said Martha Swan, Executive Director of John Brown Lives!  “Eight years ago, he proposed a Blues festival as a means of attracting music lovers to the John Brown Farm who might not otherwise be aware of or drawn to the history of the site.  Five live concerts later, and a virtual event streamed during the pandemic,  Gary’s vision for Blues at Timbuctoo connects renowned musicians and the public in community and conversation about the richness of Black history and culture and how we can work together to create a harmonious and just society.”

Blues at Timbuctoo, this year scheduled for September 19, from noon to 5 p.m., honors the connection between the blues and their origin in the area of Timbuktu (Mali, West Africa ) where many were kidnapped and brought to North America as slaves. Also, Garritt Smith, a wealthy abolitionist and land owner, gave away 120,000 acres of land to 3,000 black New Yorkers and created the community of Timbuctoo in the Lake Placid area.  The event is held outdoors at the 270-acre John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid with renowned vocalists, instrumentalists, performers, and storytellers in concert and conversation with the audience.

Lake Placid Film Festival meeting

Lake Placid Film Festival

Gary believes that his experience as a hotelier was a good fit for him, building upon his natural friendliness and curiosity about people. It was easy for him to accept an invitation from Gary Dake to become involved with the Adirondack Film Society and the Lake Placid Film Festival, (LPFF) as a member of the Board.  Admittedly, Gary says, film has  never been at the forefront of his interests,  but he has been inspired by  the LPFF history, the filmmakers he has met, as well as books on film history he has read.   He has also gained respect for the challenging filmmaking processes, from writing a script, to conveying the essence of feeling, and then to raising the funds necessary to make an outstanding film.

Gary himself is a storyteller, and as most film critics and experts will say, storytelling is at the heart of all films.  What he most enjoys about the festivals and what gives him the greatest sense of pride is the interactions– particularly the dynamic questions and answers — between attendees. During the pandemic, LPFF presented on line,  Your Shorts are Showing, two series of weekly short films, followed by question and answer sessions with the filmmakers.  The series broadened the reach of the festival nationally and internationally, with viewers and filmmakers from as far away as London, England.

Your Shorts are Showing also presented filmmakers with awards, as part of the Festival’s mission to help promote filmmakers who depend on film festivals to bring their creative work to the general public.  LPFF is in its 21st year and this year the festival will take place in Lake Placid from October 21-24, 2021.  Many months in advance, Gary, and the LPFF team of staff and volunteers are working to produce an arts event that generates what Gary calls,  “a million points of light.”  According to Gary, “the Lake Placid Film Festival celebrates the community of film industry amateurs, professionals, and just plain movie buffs, with award winning and cutting edge films. The festival also presents educational seminars and events to include receptions, tributes,  networking, all wrapped in the mystical, magical village of Lake Placid.”

While Festival planning itself is nearly a full time endeavor, Gary’s energy and enthusiasm for the Adirondacks is also channeled into other organizations, including the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, for which he currently serves on the Board and chairs the Partnership’s Program and Development Committee.

Gary also looks towards supporting new leadership for the Film Society and Festival, as being critical for the organization’s growth and stability.  Even then, he won’t suffer from lack of activity.  Gary and his wife Kathie also own Camp Bearberry on the shores of Lake Placid, clearly a source of great pride for them both, and which they have offered as a summer vacation rental for more than 20 years.  The house has incredible views, and is filled with antiques, unique furniture and fixtures, original paintings by Kathie as well as an assortment of historical memorabilia.  He and Kathie celebrate 50 years of marriage in August, and their two children, Garrick and Justin, have also found meaningful careers nearby in the hospitality industry.  With their grandchildren close by in the beautiful Adirondacks, and with something exciting to do every minute, he exclaims, “What could be better!”

For more information about the Adirondack Center for Writing, go to:

For more information about the Adirondack Film Society  and the Lake Placid Film Festival, go to:

For more information about Camp Bearberry, go to:

For more about John Brown Lives!  go to:

For more information about the NYS Archives Partnership Trust, go to

Photo Info:

Gary Smith at Camp Bearberry, Lake Placid

LPFF Media Committee Meeting July 14, 2021. Left to Right: Anthony Dawson- Ellis, Wendy Poole, Gary Smith, Carla Eilo, Susan O’Brien

Photos provided by Linda Friedman Ramirez

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Linda Friedman Ramirez is a resident of Saranac Lake. She previously owned an art gallery in St. Petersburg, Florida, and appreciates how art is integral to a community. She enjoys writing about the people of the Adirondacks.

One Response

  1. It’s so interesting to learn more about some of the people you know. I’ll mark the Film Festival down on my calendar. Nicely written interview!