The Next Picture Show

The Fine Arts Theatre back in the day -- the day looong before Restoration Hardware. (Photo provided by Miggs Burroughs)

Westport hasn’t been the same since 1999, when the theaters closed.  We need movies back in town.


Making that happen, though, might be something even James Cameron can’t concoct.

Jonathan Steinberg thought an important 1st step would be taken Tuesday night.  The RTM member, Town Plan implentation activist, cinephile and Staples ’74 grad who remembers the Fine Arts Theatres well convened a meeting of over 2 dozen film-loving Westporters.

Steinberg thought they’d pretty much agree to the idea of a film society, then hash out little details like where, when and how.

Instead, the plot thickened.

This being Westporters, everyone had opinions.  Lots of opinions.

Some folks feel it’s important to have a 1st-run theater here — though no one knows where.

Others — like Steinberg — believe the best prospect is showing 2nd-run films, like the Community Theater in Fairfield, or “less sexy” offerings like golden oldies, or cult or art films with a theme — something the library, Westport Historical Society and Westport Country Playhouse already do.

Some think a permanent home — even if not a full-fledged theater — is crucial.  Others are fine using a variety of venues.

Steinberg thinks Town Hall is perfect.  Students hate the idea.

The next step takes place this Monday (March 15), at 7 p.m. in Room 102 of (yes) Town Hall.  Interested Westporters are invited to discuss a mission statement, enabling work to go forward.

Steinberg still pushes the “Film Society” idea.  Others think that sounds too elitist.

“I’m not going to get hung up on nomenclature or motives,” Steinberg says.  “I just want to keep this moving ahead.  We have lots of questions to address.”

Soon the group will visit the Avon Theater in Stamford, and towns like Bethel where film thrives.  “We’ll see what works there, and figure out what might work here,” Steinberg promises.

Steinberg is pleased that the 1st meeting attracted a broad, wide swath of Westporters, with diverse interests and varied ages.

He is pleased too that library director Maxine Bleiweis asked the group to offer input into the library’s own summer film plans.

And — though Tuesday’s meeting did not produce the consensus around a Film Society, with showings at Town Hall, that he hoped for — Steinberg is not surprised.

A Westporter since the Fine Arts days, he knows that as much as residents love movies, they love arguing even more.

This is one story assured of many sequels.

The day the movies died (1999). (Photo provided by Miggs Burroughs)

13 responses to “The Next Picture Show

  1. John McCarthy

    Keep it going Jonathan. Thanks for moving the dialogue ahead. This is important.

  2. Historically Westport has been a haven for the “Arts” and those making it. Throughout the last century and today, many of our residents have been part of the Film industry. From movie moguls to movie stars to small and big players, our fair town has a great place in filmdom. How ironic and sad we do not have a place togo to watch them. Toquet Hall, outdoors, Town Hall, Staples are just a few places we could show movies…. It’s not even a need it’s a must for Westport to get film back in our town…. PS what about the Saugatuck Post office

  3. In order to be really successful for the town overall, I concur with those who think it should be near restaurants, or at least an ice cream parlor. Compo Center comes to mind, or out by Carvel. Downtown would be nice but the rents would be too high. Town Hall or Staples don’t fit the bill. Toquet is an interesting option.

    PS – I know you were thining of the “Avatar” guy, but I flashed on the train-man Jim Cameron, who has the answers to everything.

  4. Jim Honeycutt

    My wife and I both work at Staples High School and we live in Fairfield. We attend the Community Theater in Fairfield quite a bit, most recently seeing “An Education” and “The Hurt Locker,” both of which we missed in the regular theaters. It would be a wonderful thing for Westport to have its own Community Theater and have it near maybe the Historical Society and the downtown. Would it be a possible venue for other events like concerts, poets, and speakers? Good job Dan! Help preserve Westport’s wonderful downtown by bringing back those old community movie theaters.

  5. Catherine Davis

    I’ve been wondering what will happen to the O’Keefe building, other than an extra lot for Lexus.. It would make a great student center for indoor mini-golf or a roller rink OR a community theater. That family has always been so generous to the community, I’m sure they would be approachable. Wouldn’t 5 Guys love that space being used for something that draws poeple nights and weekends?!

  6. The Dude Abides

    I sat in the balcony of the ole Fine Arts Theatre every Saturday for matinees in the 50’s and it was great but once you have gone to stadium seating, you can’t go back. Sorry. I have not been to the theatre in Fairfield but the ole one in Darien is creepy and smells like hell. I think Ms. Davis is on to something, tear down O’Keefe and build a big ole Bow Tie cinema. The kids are the ones who go and will shy away from an old revival. You do want to make money right or is this a new Sundance Westport Festival type of thing?

  7. Hey, wait a minute. I wanted the O’Keefe property for a 24 Hour Fitness Center so we can put an end to the YMCA squabbling and have it in a convenient location. I think the theatre should be downtown (like the Y). Just wait for a bank to fail and buy up the land.

  8. Thank you for thinking of Toquet Hall. I just wanted to add some information about our current programming.

    We currently offer about 1 movie night a month for the teens. They usually vary between classics and indie films. For exmaple the past year my teen governing board has selected films like “Harold & Maude”, “Rear Window” (for Halloween) “Breakfast at Tiffanys” and “Adventureland”.

    While the nothing has drawn as well as the live performances (music/stand-up comedy/theater), we can usually get 15-25 kids in for the movie nights (which are always free). To compare, I had 182 in for a concert this past Saturday.

    We’ve also offered several student film nights and an “open screen night” where kids could come in and show short films and videos they’ve worked on in a format similar to an open mic night.

    We do have a screen, projector and sound system, although we lack fixed or tiered seating like Town Hall type of venue. We also would need to keep performances to the evening/night hours so not to interfere with neighboring businesses.

    For other event information you can visit us online at:, and We also have a facebook account and a facebook fan page.

    We have a great performance this weekend of “Telemachus Clay” which is a Staples studio production and directed by: Jahari Dodd. Performances tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 6pm & 8:30pm. Tickets are $7.

    -Kevin Godburn
    Toquet Hall Director

    If anyone has any questions, you can call me at 203-341-1155 or e-mail either or

  9. Sorry, that second e-mail should read:

  10. New Kid 'n' Town

    Well, HEY!…how ’bout that Linxweiler property for something that the WHOLE town could enjoy
    (like a community theater/performance space/
    movie theater ??) “Open Space” can have many meanings…(besides “supportive housing” – whose idea was that anyway ??!) Proud People of Westport: LET’S TAKE A VOTE !!

  11. Double Parked

    Community theatre? Performing arts center? Hmmm . . . I wonder what the Westport Playhouse is all about? Or Staples?? What we need in Westport is a good ole fashioned movie theatre where you can make out!! I say bring back the drive-in and keep the beach open until at least 3:00 a.m. for the submarine races! You want retro folks, there it is!

  12. Wendy Crowther

    Town Hall’s auditorium is vacant every weekend (and on many weekday evenings). It has potential. The entry lobby is rarely used and there’s an upper lobby too – lots of space to position a possible ticket booth. Perhaps a “BYOS” policy (bring your own snack/sodas) would eliminate need for popcorn/snack bar. There’s decent parking in back on weekends and the location is a few steps from downtown. It’s worth considering.

  13. Stephen Rubin

    Let’s work together on this on and give it a try.