The Next Picture Show

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.”

Angels will help bring "Chainsaw" -- and other cult films to Westport. Along with indie films, art films, and foreign films.

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, or call 203-434-2908.)

32 responses to “The Next Picture Show

  1. Diane & Dan

    Count us in Dan! Meanwhile today…Is Richmondville Ave. flooded.?We are away but just heard they had a mudslide in Danbury!!

  2. Not sure about Richmondville. Any reports from that section of town? At any rate, it can’t be as bad as the ’55 flood there!

  3. Baron’s South

  4. I miss our movie theaters too and I bemoan the sterile nature of downtown, but I think a local cinema for $10 per adult is a loser at the outset. Think of the competing forces that are the simple reality of today’s cinema lover– (1) netflix streaming or DVD into my family room, (2) VUDU streaming for $4, (3) redbox for $1. Most people go to the movies for big blockbusters, if at all. But, to pay $10 per person for a second run when I can watch the same film in my house without catching a cold or listening to someone’s cell phone go off? The average person simply is not going to do that.

  5. Some fail to realize that there is a reason there are no longer movie theaters in Westport; supply and demand. Theaters in Westport would have no inherent market advantage over movies in Norwalk, Fairfield, or Bridgeport.

  6. Dennis Jackson

    Why not just run interesting alt.movies at the Playhouse, as was done in the 70s?

  7. Works at The Mill

    Richmondville Ave. is surprisingly dry so far. Ford Rd, however is close from flooding.

  8. Wouldn’t it be nice to open a small artsy movie theater in that space formerly occupied by Peter’s Bridge Market in Saugatuck?

  9. Thanks Dan for the great article-Nothing like the dark movie theater, munching pop corn, or as in my cases gobbling peanut m&ms to make us forget the things that are not quite right, perhaps be inspired, or just to have fun; and to do this as a community of film lovers. Movie theaters bring their own magic!
    Sandy Lefkowitz

  10. The Dude Abides

    What about down on Imperial behind the library where they store the buses??? They can still have their Farmers Market early before the matinee. But if you are gonna be competitive, don’t build some ole relic of a place. Once you go “stadium seating,” you never go back. Bow Tie in Trumbull is only place I will go now.

  11. Estelle Margolis

    O.K. for the kids to show Willie Wonka, but the “Chain Saw Murders”??????
    They are going to have to make better choices if they want my support!

    Estelle T. Margolis

  12. Newtown runs semi-current movies in the auditorium in their (now former) Town Hall for $2 a ticket. Right now, they have Little Fockers, with Tangled in for next week. A couple weeks ago, they showed Winter’s Bone. Just saying they might have some advice. Also wondering if the Westport Town Hall kept the auditorium in the old (or is it old, old now?) Bedford El; and if they did, whether that’s an option, at least to start with.

  13. How about one place that could be a bookstore/record store in the morning; a smoke shop-luncheonette in the afternoon; movie theater at night; and gay bar late night?

  14. Call Magic Johnson. The guy knows movie houses. He has turned many a inner city around in the west and south. I would replace Levitt Pavilion with an Entertainment Center that includes movies, playhouse and museum of the various artists from this area.

  15. Linda Hudson

    I agree with LZ and Anonymous – while Westport lacks the cache of having its own theater, I don’t see the necessity of having our own, with multiple screens on either side of us, other than the small boost it might give to Westport restaurants.
    I remember films at the Playhouse in the ’70s and think that’s a wonderful idea to revive.

  16. Larry Perlstein

    I’m supporting this because I want a different experience for myself and my family than going to a nondescript Bowtie cinema — which for the most part is replaceable by my home theater. For example, the events I’ve gone to at Stamford’s Avon such as (Gene) Wilder’s Picks are emotional, entertaining, community building experiences. Westport deserves its own venue that can draw from the wealth of creativity available right here and serve the needs of our local community.

  17. Hush McCormick

    Don’t be knocking my Bow Tie, Larry. I go every Wednesday and see first run films in the leisure of stadium seating. If you want to sit in an old
    dungeon and watch “Psycho” or “Sound of Music” for the 18th time, so be it. But it won’t sell and won’t last. Kids drive the industry and not old farts like us.

  18. Dennis Jackson

    Agreed about kids driving the market, Hush, but neither Garden nor Bethel Cinema (we go to both regularly, living midway between) runs Psycho (though it would be cool if they did), and they both seem to survive well by serving their market. They run films that are arguably a tad more sophisticated than your average Disney animation, teenage romance, or slasher flick. Thus to appeal to older demos, of course. And, as with True Grit, there is sometimes crossover with the same films showing at Bow Tie.
    Could that smallish pie be further divided? I wouldn’t invest a lot of money in it. But if I had a playhouse that wasn’t always used….

    • Hush McCormick

      Thanks for the info on Bethel. Was unaware. But not keen on Fairfield and Darien’s old shanties. Been around and never knew that the Westport Playhouse was used for movies?

  19. Dennis Jackson

    In 1975, we saw Russ Meyer’s “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” and other weekly offerings at the Playhouse. One at a time, and on a selected night of the week. (Also took a fascinating course there on Shamanism offered by Michael Harner.)

    Bethel Cinema is straight up Rt 53 and offers four screens, real butter for the popcorn, gelato, cool munchies, RC Cola, free parking, and we think it’s a bit friendlier than Garden Cinema.

    • Hush McCormick

      Interesting. “Valley” must have been pretty racy for the time. Love the “stadium seating” at Trumbull though and a recent release freak.
      Plus, 5 bucks for seniors on Wednesdays. We take our own air popped

  20. Leatherface aka horror film fan

    The movie is called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre not “texas chainsaw murders”. This leads me to ask have you ever seen this movie? Texas Chainsaw Massacre is considered a horror masterpiece and one of the most controversial films ever made. It was initially banned in many countries but has also been the subject of much writing and critical debate. As with most horror and sci-fi, the film is about so much more than it seems. Most critics now agree to the films theme as a “statement about the end-time of the American Experience”. Other films critics have said the “characters are victim to industrial capitalism”, the film “shows the violent disruption of the security and stability of rural and urban life” and that it is an “attack on authority in a post Watergate, post Vietnam America”. Stephen King wrote of it, “I would testify to its redeeming social merit in any court in the country.” The film screened as part of the 1975 Cannes Film Festival in the elite Director’s Fortnight and it is also now preserved as part of the permanent collection at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. To be sure the film has its detractors who probably think it is exploitive. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is controversial and horror films are not for everyone but to flippantly say you would not support the cause of trying to bring a movie theater back to Westport because you don’t approve of a film being screened seems somewhat close minded. Would you not to support the Public Library because you don’t agree with the views of every book they offer, because some of the books do not fit your taste? If a new theater is built maybe we will not like every film that is shown but at least it looks like they are trying to show films for everyone, even those of us who like an occasional scare.

  21. I am so thrilled that Leatherface akahorror film fan picked up this unfortunate error in the blog. You are so right this is a masterpiece; that is why it was selected. We are hoping that people who haven’t seen this will see something that resonates well beyond a slasher film and have a new respect for the genre.

    Thank you so much for bringing my attention to the misprint.

  22. Great, 10 bucks for a rerun of an aged horror flick. Some people will attest to the artistic merit of camel dung; some know better. BTW I have seen the film and it is an only mediocre example of its genre.

    • matt on compo

      i am more someone who would likely go to a documentary and never really considered going to a movie like texas chain saw massacre but seeing people seem so passionate about it i am now thinking of actually going. anything stephen king likes and is in moma but someone else is calling camel dung must be worth watching

      • Have a good time. There is no accounting for taste. BTW you can see it at netflicks online.