Movie Theater Downtown: It’s Remarkable!

The Westport Public Schools do a wonderful job providing opportunities to students with disabilities.

But at age 21, they age out. Meanwhile, the state has cut funding for day programs for adults with disabilities.

A group of parents has a goal: increase employment for area men and women with physical and intellectual disabilities.

The result: a remarkable idea.

The parents were inspired by the Prospector Theater in Ridgefield. It shows first-run films; 65% of employees are people with disabilities.

Meanwhile, a different group of Westporters worked for years, trying to open a theater downtown. They had a name — Westport Cinema Initiative — but no building and little funding.

Stacie Curran and Marina Derman — longtime Westporters with sons with disabilities — met with Doug Tirola. As a Staples High School graduate, current resident and president of documentary producer 4th Row Films, he was perfectly positioned to help.

The 2 groups merged. Now they’re poised to bring a theater to Westport. It will train and employ people with disabilities.

And — in a brilliant homage to Westport’s history and arts heritage — it will be called the Remarkable Theater.

The name — as Tirola, Curran, Derman and thousands of others know — honors the Remarkable Book Shop. That’s the longtime, beloved and still-mourned store at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza (now the still-closed Talbots).

Curran came up with the brilliant name. Mark Kramer and Wendy Kramer Posner — whose mother Esther owned the shop — are “thrilled, honored and completely supportive,” says Derman.

“It’s a reminder of a time when downtown was homey, friendly, warm and fun,” Curran adds. “And people with disabilities are remarkable.”

Remarkably too, today is National Arthouse Theater Day. That’s exactly the type of theater the Remarkable will be.

Tirola calls it a “state-of-the-art, independent arthouse theater.” It will show independent and older films. Think of New York’s Film Forum, he says.

You’ll still go to a multiplex for the latest “Star Wars” sequel. But the Remarkable will be the place to go for many intriguing films. On Veterans Day, for example, it might screen a series of historical movies. If a famous director dies, it’s flexible enough to quickly mount a tribute.

Among the Westporters working on the Remarkable Theater project: Front (from left): Joanna Borner, Marina Derman, Deirdre Teed, Stacie Curran. Rear: Doug Tirola, Kristin Ehrlich, Angie Wormser, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, Diane Johnson.

The theater will be a venue for talkbacks too. Other groups — particularly schools — will be invited to use the space.

Tirola, Curran, Derman and others have already secured a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Developmental Services. Funds will pay for equipment and movie screenings.

Pop-up screenings could begin before the theater opens. Organizers hope to break ground 2 years from now.

As for where it will be: They’d love a downtown site. They’ve begun talking with landlords, looking for options.

After several years, there’s real movement for a movie theater in Westport. The curtain is rising on this remarkable story.

(For more information — or to help — click here, or email marina@remarkabletheater.org).

81 responses to “Movie Theater Downtown: It’s Remarkable!

  1. Love to collaborate with all the Veterans we bring to town on Veterans Day weekend, with Catch A Lift

  2. This is fabulous. A wonderful idea and an example of people in our community putting their skills and their passion together for a great idea that benefits all of us. Thank you!

  3. Well done on The Remarkable Theater!
    Thank you!! 👏👏👏

  4. What a “remarkable” concept! Can’t wait to patronize the theater

  5. Congrats to you all for a Remarkable idea and looking forward to the Remarkable theater!!
    Well done

  6. Yes! Great idea! Let’s hope it will come to fruition.

  7. Totally awesome!! Fingers crossed.

  8. Sarah Green-Motyl

    What a fabulous idea! Please keep us all posted if you need volunteers as this incredible and “remarkable” dream comes to fruition. Kudos to all involved!

  9. Please note – Board Members missing from photo deserving all credit and recognition: Diane Kwong-Shah, Margie Jacobson, Jeffrey Peterson, Dr. Jonathan Sollinger, and non-board members, actively working with us: Sharuna Mahesh, and Elaine Daignault, of Human Services – and of course, Westport’s Commission On People With Disabilities. Thank you Dan.

  10. This is truly remarkable! Two things the community needs and welcomes, a much needed movie theater and the opportunity for employment for those who need it most.

  11. Thanks for the excitement and the comments! Visit our website to learn more:
    http://remarkabletheater.org/

  12. What a wonderful idea! And long overdue.

  13. Wishing everyone lots of success in making this a reality. I assume this doesn’t preclude some kind of naming rights arrangement with a wealthy benefactor.

  14. Jennifer Pressman

    This is phenomenal
    Can’t wait! Great idea!

  15. Cathy Walsh P&Z Commission

    Congratulations all. Keep in mind that P&Z commission is 100% behind a theater downtown. It’s an allowed use already so I anticipate the red tape being minimal. Doug-we speak often enough so keep us in the loop, you have my phone number.. We’re always willing to review potential sites and guide you through the process on the front end. Get it done! We’re with you.

  16. It’s wonderful to see this vision come to fruition and become a reality! This is a much needed addition to our town for our children and our community. Thank you Stacie, Joanna and all those who passionately fought for this!

  17. Hooray!
    Should have contribution link on 06880 and website…did I miss it?

  18. GREAT ARTICLE!!!!! Thanks Dan and fantastic work by all.

  19. This is brilliant! Forward thinking match of talents and passion – GESTALT! What a wonderful idea. Thank you to all involved.

  20. Congratulations and Thank you to all involved! What a gift to the town. We look forward to walking to a movie after dinner–and meaningful employment for some talented and eager people!

  21. What an incredible way to marry the need of real work and community for our Westporters with disabilities with a valuable addition to Westport that benefits everyone. Win- win!

  22. Is the old Remarkable Bookstore/Talbots being rented for $25,000/month to have this wonderful theater? That’s a lot of tickets to sell each week. Or is this just a great idea because the property is not rentable at that price? I’m confused as to how this is going to happen.

    • David, I’m not sure why you think the old Remarkable Book Shop is the site of the theater. Besides the similar name, nothing in the story indicated that. In fact, near the end I mentioned that the group is talking to landlords, looking at options for a downtown site.

    • Dan is correct! And to address your question on how this is going to happen: We know we have significant fundraising to do. We do not have a site yet, but we know downtown is critical to the success of the movie theater and our goals. Where we end up depends on many factors. I could site the fact that we have a detailed business plan, a well developed budget, a talented team of partners, and a passionate board… but undeniably, this is going to happen with the support of our community.

  23. What a great story to wake up to today! A lot of the people who are creating this wonderful initiative are associated with our town’s Challenger Baseball program, most of all, the REMARKABLE Stacie Curran!!! She has brought this great idea to life and it will be spectacular, trust me! Kudos to all involved.

    • Thank you Beth!! And for anyone who hasn’t seen a Challenger Baseball game… it is an amazing experience! The abilities of these athletes- the passion, the joy and the teamwork that they bring to the game- is REMARKABLE. Coach Mike and Coach Todd, Beth…. unbelievable commitment to celebrating the abilities of these players! If you haven’t seen one, check out a Sunday game!

      • Thanks so much, Joanna! You described the program perfectly. The Westport Winners (named by Dylan Curran—that family has a knack for naming things!) play at White Field at the Compo Road North complex 11:30-1:00 on Sundays this fall. Come by to watch if you want to have a feel-good experience!

  24. With the loss of the Community Theater in Fairfield and the apparent future risks for the continuation of the Sono Cinema a new Westport theatre becomes even more critical. Congratulations to all for the formation of this newly energized “Task Force”

    • Agreed Michael! We are eagerly planning for an independent, state of the art movie theater that will provide programming relevant to Westporters. A key component of our programming will be to actively listen and respond to what our community wants. This is why we love the arthouse model- and why we think it is so fitting for the culture of Westport.

  25. It is remarkable for this group of parents to be serving the Town of Westport with a community theatre as well as a group of able young adults who will be employed and engaged here. Our local landlords should be jumping at the chance!!! Let’s make this happen!!!

  26. Adding to Michael Calise’s comment, we are also close to losing the Garden Cinema. That is bad news for us area residents, but perhaps good news for the Remarkable as it will be the only venue for independent films in the county besides the Avon and (to some degree) Bethel Cinema.

  27. A real feel good effort and sounds like it’s on it’s way to reality!

  28. What a wonderful idea. Bringing people together and a little of the old downtown flair. Can’t wait to follow its progress. Thanks Dan for sharing!

  29. Great article Dan!
    It would be wonderful to have a theater like
    the Prospector in Westport.
    Thank you to the Remarkable committee!!
    I would love to be involved with
    this great project for our community.

  30. I read this article to my kids this morning. They get how exciting and important this is! So so much for the community to look forward to. Thank you so much to all who worked so hard to get this going! Remarkable!!

    • Kudos to you Kate. One of the major drivers behind Remarkable Theater is for us- as a community- to experience and celebrate the abilities of all people. If we can show our kids firsthand the value of every ability, we can help shape this narrative for future generations. Thank you!!! I’m going to read this to my kids today too…

  31. Wonderful idea! Even if a downtown location is not possible, anything on the Post Road would work, tho I remember when downtown was alive at nite and it was fun!

  32. Remarkable idea by remarkable people for remarkable reasons!!!

  33. Great- would have loved a theater that was named “The Paul Newman Theater”

  34. Melissa Seltzer Levy

    This is a fantastic idea by remarkable people! I would love to support to help make this a reality.

  35. Bravo! Win! Win! Win!

  36. Wow- this is awesome- so much good will come from this- especially the community coming together! Quite remarkable!

  37. What a remarkable idea, important to our community for several reasons. Thank you to Stacie, Doug and all those whose efforts are making this happen.

  38. Dan,
    Thank you for this uplifting, true story of a Dedicated group of Productive Folks in our Town. Their efforts, and willingness to provide their talents in order to create an arena for challenged kids and adults who strive to lead productive lives, should not go unnoticed! They have recognized a need and with their energy, are meeting the Challenge of finding the way for the more Challenged to lead productive lives thru their journeys thru Life.
    Thank you to all of you!

  39. This is wonderful! A great initiative in so many levels.

  40. I do not live in Westport, but worked in the schools for several years, with some of the awesome people on the board’s children when the kids were young. I am so happy to see this idea starting up in Westport. What an example you all are setting!! I am also now the parent of a differently abled child and still draw my strength from my experiences while working in Westport. I applaud all of you and would love to be a part of this if possible.

  41. All I can say is “Remarkable!” We have been waiting for a theater to come back to Westport and what better way to serve our community, than by looking from within and serving multiple segments of our wonderful town and in so many different ways. Thank you to the truly remarkable Stacie Curran, et al for having this wonderful vision to make this dream become a reality for our community. Anything that woman touches turns to gold! Bravo!

  42. This is amazing news and so needed! Thank you one and all and a special shout out to Marina Derman, whose tireless advocacy throughout the years is nothing short of REMARKABLE!

  43. This is amazing news and so badly needed for this community. Thank you one and all and a special shout out to Marina Derman, whose tireless advocacy on some many important issues is nothing short of REMARKABLE!

  44. This warms my heart. Truly remarkable people doing amazing things for other remarkable people. I know that you have all put in so much time to make this a reality and I know you will not stop until those theater doors are open. If there is anything I can do to help please let me know. Thank you all!

    • Joanna Borner, VP, Remarkable Theater

      Hi Kelly- we’d love your help! If you would like, get in touch with us via the “contact” page on our website!
      Remarkabletheater.org

  45. Such an amazing effort. If Stacie Curran is involved, I have no doubt it will get done. I look forward to many Remarkable times at the Remarkable Theater! As always thanks to Dan for keeping us informed.

  46. My husband and I have enjoyed evenings at the Propector in Ridgefield. So excited that Westport is going to get one of its own!!!!

  47. Laurie Sappern Gaugler

    Hey Dan, you likely already know this but thought I’d mention.  I used to work for Sidney Kramer during high school and summers between college.  He was an attorney and Esther’s husband.  Spell remark backwards!!!!!!!Laurie Sappern Gaugler, CLTCIndependent Long-Term Care Insurance Specialist LTCI Insight, LLCwww.insightLTC.com(O) 203.255.6530 (C) 203.257.7921Excuse typos, my cell phone made me do it!

  48. This is a great initiative! I remember several years ago a cab driver, of all people, telling me about plans he said were underway to open a cinema in Westport. I was excited by the news because I could remember when we had a theater in town, and going there was always more fun and relaxing than driving off to a multiplex somewhere to see a movie. Then nothing happened, and I assumed the idea had gotten tangled up in bureaucracy and run out of steam. Apparently not!

    As happy as I am about the initiative, though, I still worry about the economics. While many of us would certainly patronize the theater and happily pay higher-than-normal ticket prices, there are reasons why the old theater closed many years ago and no other has taken its place: costs would be high and revenue potential probably limited. I’m glad the project leaders have been able to obtain a grant to get the thing off the ground, but an entertainment venue in a wealthy community like ours is not really a suitable vehicle for any kind of ongoing state subsidy. To be viable over the long run, the theater will have to become self-sustaining.

    I’m grateful to the folks who are thinking through these issues and forging ahead. With what seems to be the growing supply of empty and under-utilized real estate in town now, maybe the economics are shifting.

  49. This is a great idea and I applaud the effort. It’s important for people to understand however that almost exactly one year ago, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted to DENY the creation of a theater overlay district for downtown Westport that would have helped bring this great idea to fruition. Sadly, despite hundreds of hours of effort by volunteers in drafting a proposed ordinance, the P & Z abruptly shot the proposal down, claiming it would require a height modification of about 15 feet which in the Commission’s view was just unacceptable. (Kind of ironic given Dan’s recent post showing rather tall buildings along Main Street dating back to around 1919 or so!). And just like that the effort was blocked. So if folks want to make this happen, you need to make your views known to the P & Z and other public officials or it will be doomed to failure. To see the discussion back in Sept 2018, go to :

    https://view/earthchannel.com/PlayerController.aspx?&PGD=westportct&elD=703

    • The link is not working. To watch the P&Z’s hearing go to the town website live meeting archives and look up the September 13 2018 P&Z meeting. The theater discussion begins at 1hr 24min 30secs.

  50. It seems as though everybody in town wants a theater, and most agree that it should be downtown. By proposing a text amendment more than a year ago to relax the governing regulations in business zones, the Coalition for Westport sought to create a climate which would not only allow, but would invite and encourage interested parties to make that happen. (It is notable that the proposal failed by a vote which included two abstentions.)
    The Coalition supports the effort of the Cinema Initiative and congratulates it on its new strategy and affiliation.

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