It’s still baffling to me that Portland, as cool and edgy as we are, doesn’t have independent arthouse cinema to speak of. 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 bananas — but still. A city without an arthouse theater lacks something essential to its soul.
Luckily for Waterville residents, the Railroad Square Cinema remains an example of what an independent movie theater should be. And when I already knew Railroad Square was great and allthe recent announcement of its ongoing Cinema Explorations film series reaffirms its position as the kind of place every community really needs.
A series of screenings of seven unpretentious films, Cinematic explorations represents Railroad Square’s long history of community involvement.
“We’re giving it away to members of the movie-going community,” said Mike Perreault, executive director of the Maine Film Center, which runs Railroad Square. “They’ve been a long time supporter of Railroad Square, they love the movies, and a lot of them have been with us since the beginning.”
For decades, the series is just another way the Maine Film Center has sought to make filmmaking in central Maine a truly participatory, community-based way of life. Each year, a group of patrons get together and screen, debate, and then schedule a lineup of films that, as Perreault puts it, “otherwise would not be screened at Railroad Square, for various reasons.”
This year’s eclectic, cinephile-chosen crop includes everything from this week’s “Truth Tellers,” about Maine-based artist Robert Shetterly, to February features “Luzzu” (Malta’s Oscar winner, on a fisherman struggling to support his family) and the moving musical documentary “How They Got Over”, about the black gospel bands that helped create rock ‘n’ roll. Later films in the series include the documentary “After Antarctica”, about polar explorer Will Steger; the Japanese World War II thriller “Wife of a Spy”; and the still breathtaking 2001 documentary “Winged Migration,” whose beautiful depiction of birds in flight remains a big-screen staple.
Said Perrault of the all-volunteer herd of Central Maine 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 enjoy meeting each other. stand up and talk about movies.
Crediting Railroad Square director Alan Sanborn with keeping this unique series so vital, Perreault said he was “always super happy” with the choices of these movie fanatics, calling the annual Explorations of Cinema “some of the most memorable movies I’ve seen all year.”
Oh, and did I mention that the Cinema Explorations series costs nothing? As Perreault notes, thankfully, this year’s patronage of the Colby College Center for Arts and Humanities means that these weekend matinee screenings are, for the first time, free and open to the public. (And here he and I provide the caveat that Railroad Square makes sense COVID Policies require proof of vaccination and mask-wearing for all attendees.)
And there too, I return once again to my platform on the role that a very large cinema can play in the life of a community. Sure, railway square always delivers in an adventurous way, 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 rewarding.
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 equal care and affection. It’s a weird and wonderful expression of the creativity and love a community can have for their independent cinema, and vice versa.
Railroad Square’s Cinema Explorations film series continues through the end of March. All performances are at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For the complete schedule, go to watervillecreates.org.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.