It’s still baffling to me that Portland, as cool and avant-garde as we are, doesn’t have an independent arthouse cinema on its own. And I know all about the Portland real estate market, the vagaries of running such a business, and the fact that currently opening a new movie theater during a pandemic would be completely insane – but still. A city without an arthouse theater lacks something essential in its soul.
Fortunately for the people of Waterville, the Railroad Square Cinema remains an example of what an independent cinema should be. And while I already knew that Railroad Square was great and all, the recent announcement of its ongoing Cinema Explorations film series reaffirms its position as the kind of place every community truly needs.
A series of unpretentious screenings of seven films, Cinematographic explorations represents Railroad Square’s long history of community involvement.
“We hand it over to members of the film community,” said Mike Perreault, executive director of the Maine Film Center, which manages Railroad Square. “They have been supporting Railroad Square for a long time, they love the movies and a lot of them have been with us from the start.”
For decades, the series has been just another way the Maine Film Center has sought to make filmmaking in central Maine a truly participatory and community-based way of life. Each year, a group of patrons meets and projects, debates and then programs a program of films which, as Perreault says, “otherwise, would not be shown in Railroad Square, for various reasons”.
This year’s eclectic and cinephile-picking crop includes everything from this week’s “Truth Tellers” about Maine artist Robert Shetterly, to February’s “Luzzu” (Malta’s Oscar submission, about a struggling fisherman to support his family) and the moving documentary musical “How They Got Over”, about black gospel groups who helped create rock ‘n’ roll. Later films in the series include the documentary “After Antarctica”, about polar explorer Will Steger; the Japanese WWII thriller “Wife of a Spy”; and the ever-breathtaking 2001 documentary “Winged Migration,” whose magnificent portrayal of birds in flight remains a staple on the big screen.
Said Perrault of Central Maine’s group of all-volunteer moviegoers who migrate to Railroad Square each year for these community film explorations, “They are generous Railroad Square supporters, members and patrons from across central Maine who love to meet. and talk about movies.
Thanking Railroad Square director Alan Sanborn for keeping this unique series so vital, Perreault said he was “always very happy” with the choices of these moviegoers, calling the annual Cinema Explorations “some of the most popular films. memorials that I see all year round “.
Oh, and did I mention that the Cinema Explorations series is free to attend? As Perreault happily notes, this year’s patronage of the Colby College Center for Arts and Humanities means that these weekend morning screenings are, for the first time, free and open to the public. (And here he and I provide the caveat that Railroad Square is sensitive COVID policies require proof of vaccination and a mask for all participants.)
And here too, I will once again come back to my forum on the role that a very large cinema can play in the life of a community. Sure, Railway Square always adventurous books, bringing Maine moviegoers the best and most ambitious films from around the world and right here in Maine. But programs like Cinema Explorations show how the relationship between a city and its theater can become something mutually enriching.
A free winter movie series curated by the very people who have supported Railroad Square since it opened in 1978 is a gift given and received with such care and affection. It’s a strange and wonderful expression of the creativity and love that a community can have for its independent cinema, and vice versa.
Railroad Square’s Cinema Explorations film series continues through the end of March. All sessions are at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For the full schedule, visit watervillecreates.org.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.
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