Westport, we keep saying, is a community closely connected to the arts. We point with pride to our filmmakers and film lovers.
We’ve also watched our community go from 5 movie theaters in the 1990s, to 0 in 2011.
Fairfield has theaters. Norwalk has many. Even Bethel has a movie theater.
Now — just like a John Ford western — a cavalry rides to our rescue.
This one is called the Westport Cinema Initiative. Despite its unglamorous name, its goals are grand: Bring a state-of-the-art, independent 2-screen movie theater to town.
The Initiative has already incorporated as a not-for-profit 501 (c) 3. There’s a board of directors, a movie-ish logo, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
Most importantly, starting Saturday, March 26, there will be screenings at venues around town. The 1st event is a 4-show extravaganza: the original “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (9:30 a.m.); the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Waste Land (1 p.m.); “Big Night” (7:30 p.m.), and a 10 p.m. showing of the cult classic “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
The Cinema Initiative hopes those films — and additional ones, at the Levitt Pavilion or other locations — will create an audience, and help an actual theater become reality.
The biggest challenge, of course, is money.
“Most independent art cinemas have been initiated by a philanthropist,” says Cinema Initiative director Sandy Lefkowitz. She cites Stamford’s Avon Theater (2 screens) and the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY as examples.
Both started as existing buildings — and that’s another area of concern.
Board member Doug Tirola and Lefkowitz recently attended a conference in Utah. They learned that many community theaters started in storefronts. Others shared space with an organization like a museum. Every theater — of the 200 represented — had a dedicated space.
“We don’t have that here,” Lefkowitz says. Some locations that have been suggested — like the Playhouse and library — are not suitable.
But, she adds, “we get the feeling that merchants and townspeople want this. Wherever there’s a theater, there’s a stronger sense of community. There’s more going out for dinner, for drinks — more togetherness.”
Creating a theater “is doable,” Lefkowitz believes. “But it will take a while.”
Instead of waiting to find a spot, then raise money, the Cinema Initiative is conducting a pilot run. Last month they emailed people who already expressed interest in a theater. The Initiative asked for angels: 50 people who could contribute $1,000 each, to cover this year’s budget.
Within 20 minutes, they’d raised $8,000. It’s now over $22,000.
“Avatar” cost $280 million to produce. “Cleopatra” cost $44 million — that’s $300 million, in today’s money.
A Westport movie theater would be expensive — in land, construction and operating costs.
But think of what it costs us now to not have one.
(Tickets for each March 26 film –$10 for adults, $5 for children — are available at the Westport Country Playhouse box office; phone 203-227-4177. For information on helping the Cinema Initiative — or becoming an angel — click here, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 203-434-2908.)