Harbor Theater sees sustainability after first year

Posted:  Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - 8:30am
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Harbor Theater’s first full calendar year of operation (2018) was quite hopeful for the Small (Meadow) Mall’s 184-seat cinema. Programming was expanded from the average 35-40 movies annually in the past to 80 including art, Indie, documentary, film festival movies and first run releases. The community responded with record attendance of 11,500 patrons and $101,000 in ticket sales plus critical financial support. Membership hit a record high of 520.

“We have a shot at sustaining the theater despite a difficult and contracting national movie house market,” Harbor Theater board chair Ham Meserve said this week. “The big producers, such as Universal and Disney, which just absorbed 20th Century Fox, would just as soon as see cinemas disappear and go straight to streaming. But they need movie houses to show their films to be eligible for Oscar nominations. That’s our opening.”

Meserve noted that the theater was the smallest non-profit cinema in Maine, but through strategic scheduling has been able to procure its 80 films for the same cost as running the average 35-40 of prior years.

“That kept us operationally just in the black. A Mildred McEvoy Family Foundation grant enabled us to erect our new Route 27 sign opposite Hannaford. And a Maine Community Foundation grant underwrote our installation of portable Wi-Fi-run aids for sound and sight-impaired patrons as approved by the American Disabilities Act,” Meserve said. Fundraising and membership fees allowed upgrades in sound, projection and bathrooms.

Meserve said the theater has opened up to the community’s non-profits for special occasions at nominal rates such as Cherie Scott’s preview of her “Mumbai to Maine” pilot, and showings of public interest films such as “The Uganda Project;” “American Expedition” on a Viking ship visit here, and “Dead in the Water” on the fishing decline on the New England coast.

Invisible Boothbay hosted “Human Element” with a Bigelow Labs guest speaker, the YMCA showed its film production of “I Love Maine;” and the Boothbay Region Land Trust presented two films, on “The Value of Conservation” and “Flight of the Butterflies,” - the latter with a Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ guest speaker. Meetings are currently in the works for Boothbay Region Community Resources Council and the Knickerbocker Lake Association.

Screen ads have been made available at discounted rates to non-profits such as Rebuilding Together, Student Aid Fund, the Boothbay Region Health Center, Boothbay Region Garden Club, the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce, and The Community Center. The theater provides the Center with deeply discounted admission tickets.

The theater’s educational outreach includes four annual free showings to peninsula schoolchildren of films selected by their teachers to complement class readings or seasonal themes. Each showing, sponsored by Boothbay Harbor Rotary, hosts up to 300 children from Boothbay, Southport and Edgecomb schools in double showings. So far, the students have seen “Charlotte’s Web,” “Smallfoot,” and Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax,” with the first Harry Potter movie coming in May.

The theater partners with Boothbay Community Television’s CEO Cody Mitchell by offering the theater for Mitchell’s Boothbay Region High School video class students to see a wide variety of films free of charge underlying a for-credit-curriculum. The theater hopes to reprise its “Video Gala” in the coming year displaying video’s produced by Mitchell’s students, complete, as before, with “Golden Seagull” statues.

An extremely popular educational outreach this winter has been a seven-part British import “Exhibitions on Screen,” each 90-minute film featuring the life and paintings of some of the world’s most famous artists - from Rembrandt to Picasso. Included are interviews with current artists, curators, restorers, scholars and historians. Houses have been nearly half packed – unusual for our low winter population. The series will repeat next winter as well as a new series on historic composers on Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Chopin.

Almost as popular has been this winter’s classic film series wherein subscribers picked six favorites shown Thursday and Saturday afternoons: “Gone with the Wind,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Singing in the Rain,” “Casablanca” and “Bridge on the River Kwai.” The Classic Film Series will continue next year with all new choices from subscribers. Films are also open to the public (tickets are $10).

The theater shows four free films annually to the public. “We remain astounded how many kids on the peninsula are experiencing the inside of a legitimate movie theater for the first time,” Meserve said. “But adults come too.”

The free films included “Lobster Wars” on U.S. - Canadian tensions over Matinicus Rock, “Elf,” “Shepherdess of the Glacier” following a lone female goat hearder in Tibet; and “Itzak,” a biography on the great violinist Itzak Perlman.

For more information, visit the Harbor Theater online: www.boothbaycinema.org.