When thinking of places where movie people enjoy the quiet life amid natural splendor, Malibu; Aspen, Colo.; and Martha’s Vineyard come to mind. But in Upper Westchester Country, a rugged and rural area that is just an hour by car or commuter train from New York, a film colony has been quietly taking root.
Its residents include actor Chazz Palminteri, the personification of “A Bronx Tale” who at first glance may seem out of place. The Bronx native enjoys the country gentleman lifestyle with his wife and two children in a six-bedroom house amid wide-open spaces.
“It’s like putting a house in the middle of your own park,” says Palminteri as he walks his six-acre property near Bedford, N. Y.
Other film industry locals include Lucie Arnaz, Chevy Chase, Glenn Close, Richard Gere, director Lasse Hallstrom, Ron Howard, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, director Paul Schrader and Vanessa Williams.
Upper Westchster’s best-known inhabitants are former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton, who are residents of Chappaqua and are frequently seen in public, albeit accompanied by security personnel.
Sandwiched between suburban Connecticut and the Hudson River, Upper Westchester is a sort of Malibu of the East Coast, but in forest green. It’s 300 square miles of woods, plunging ravines, lakelike reservoirs, colonial-era cemeteries and scenic rock outcroppings. Two commuter train lines make Grand Central Station just an hour trip, so working on a daily basis in Manhattan is doable whether by train or car.
Its rough terrain and sparse population are a sharp contrast to adjacent Lower Westchester County suburbia, with the heavily populated bedroom communities of Scarsdale, White Plains, New Rochelle and Harrison.
Living here for the children is a common theme of Upper Westchester denizens, who send their kids to the area’s fine public schools. “I lived in (Manhattan) for years but my wife was less comfortable there,” says film exec Richard Abramowitz, whose background includes overseeing distribution of 1986 art hit “A Room With a View.” “We ultimately decided it was best to bring up our kids here.”
Abramowitz, his wife and three children live in a house on two acres in Armonk. Working out of a home office, Abramowitz has for five years operated a consulting and boutique theatrical distribution outfit, which is booking theaters for Neil Young’s rural musical drama “Greendale.”
Upper Westchester has its drawbacks such as icy winters and a dearth of coffee bars, newsstands and theaters reachable by foot. “But to go into the city to see a movie or play is no big deal,” says veteran indie exec Bingham Ray, who lives in Mount Kisco in a four-bedroom house on 1.9 acres with a four-foot-wide, 200-year-old oak tree in the back yard. “We do it all the time.”
A cultural hub for the film colony is the 3-year-old not-for-profit Jacob Burns Film Center, a three-screen arthouse cinema in Pleasantville, a scenic village first settled in 1695 that is the post office address for Reader’s Digest. “It’s a well-educated adult group that wants more than just a bedroom community,” says theater founder and executive director Steve Apkon.
The film center’s advisory board, which is heavy with local film people, includes cinematographer Frederick Elmes. He filmed Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm,” which was set in next-door suburban Connecticut.
Palminteri’s wife, Gianna, provides a sense of scale about domestic life in Upper Westchester. Noting that her husband’s home office is a spacious 1,300 square feet, she says, “We call it the apartment because it is the same size as our first place in the city.”