A True Community Theatre
Written by Casey Stirling | Posted by: NewEnglandFilm.com
This month, we continue our new series on local independent cinemas in New England. Last time it was Harvard Square’s Brattle Theatre. For March, we turn southward to Fairfield, Connecticut. The historic town has a few Hollywood connections — the birthplace of actors Meg Ryan and Justin Long, the setting of the TV show Who’s the Boss?, one of the shooting locations for the 1975 film The Stepford Wives — but for local residents, it is the Community Film Institute that more likely created their movie memories.
Originally known as the Community Theatre, it opened in 1920 in downtown Fairfield. The historic building features a classic marquee and is close to several restaurants and businesses, as well as the Fairfield Public Library. Following some financial troubles in the early 2000s, Leo Redgate purchased it in 2002. Now known as the Community Film Institute, many still think of it as the Fairfield Community Theatre.
Like so many other independent cinemas, the Community Film Institute distinguishes itself with its programs and screenings. The theatre hosts film festivals, filmmaker Q&As, and special events (Ed Burns made a visit last year). The Filmscool program offers inner city young adults full scholarships to create their own films, and the Community Film Club lets members take part in monthly screenings and discussions.
One of the unique aspects of the theatre, however, is the people who run it: volunteers. Local students, including those with special needs, are responsible for theatre operations. On the most basic level, this means lower prices. But there is a deeper impact for the Community Film Institute. Independent theatres thrive in communities that appreciate them. Many of these cinemas make customers feel as though they’re a part of it. In the case of the Community Film Institute, the Fairfield community truly is the cinema.
Ann Branca is one such community member who appreciates the theatre and the volunteers that keep it running. Raised in Fairfield, she has worked at the Fairfield Public Library and is currently taking graduate courses at Fairfield University. For her, the theatre stands out in its details. She notes the lack of previews before films are shown, the inexpensive ticket prices, and the old-fashioned style of the movie theatre itself. And she’s not the only one who notices. “A range of people go there,” she says, “from middle school aged students and young couples to families and senior citizens. [The theatre] shows a variety of movies… it’s a really cool place.”
The theatre also keeps a busy schedule. For those who lament how quickly movies disappear, the theatre is the place to go; it screens new releases a few months after they’ve been released. Megamind and the most recent Harry Potter movie are currently playing through the beginning of March, along with Forrest Gump.
And while those titles might easily play in any cinema, Branca adds that the Community Film Institute “is great because they screen films of local artists.” Douglas Seirup, for example, recently premiered his documentary Expect Miracles at the Community Film Institute in January. Set in Central Appalachia, he created the film with Brean Cunningham and has submitted it to several film festivals. Seirup describes his experience with the Community Film Institute as “nothing but incredible.” Says the Fairfield native, “The Theatre’s staff provided me with exceptional service to ensure that the evening would be a great success. Without this, I would not have been able to enjoy the evening as much and focus on how the audience perceived the film.”
Supporting local filmmakers, presenting a diverse selection of films, encouraging participation from the members of its community — these are all vital aspects of Fairfield’s successful independent cinema. The homepage of theatre’s website proclaims, “Changing the World Through Film.” It is a goal more theatres could aspire to, and in the case of the Community Film Institute, it’s certainly on its way, starting with Fairfield.
Learn more about Fairfield’s Community Film Institute at http://communityfilm.org/.