December 4, 2012

Film festival organizers to purchase Waterville cinema

Organizers of the Maine International Film Festival plan to buy Railroad Square Cinema to help guarantee the cinema's long-term health.

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — The parent organization of the Maine International Film Festival plans to buy Railroad Square Cinema Dec. 18, a move that will help guarantee the cinema's long-term health, officials said Monday.

click image to enlarge

Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville

Contributed photo

Waterville City Council
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: City Council Chambers, 93 Main St., third floor
What: Food and theater licenses for Maine Film Center Inc., doing business as Railroad Square Cinema
 
Maine Film Center Board of Directors
President: Emilie van Eeghen
Vice president: Julie Macksoud
Treasurer: Jennifer Strode
Christopher Brady, Jill Gordon, Michele Leavitt, Joan Phillips-Sandy, Steve Wurtzler

The Maine Film Center Inc. is a nonprofit entity based in Waterville, where the annual film festival typically draws hundreds of film enthusiasts to the cinema and Opera House for 10 days in July.

The Film Center plans to buy digital projection equipment for the cinema and improve the theater, according to Shannon Haines, the Film Center's new executive director.

For the first time, cinema supporters' donations will be tax-exempt and the theater will be eligible for grants as it will be a full nonprofit entity. Currently, it has state, but not federal 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

"Ultimately, we also hope to develop new special programming, including a children's film festival during April school vacation and a food and film series," Haines said.

Haines, who tonight will ask the City Council for theater and food licenses for Railroad Square, also is director of the annual film festival.

That festival brings about 100 American and foreign-made independent films as well as actors, directors, filmmakers and producers to Waterville each summer.

The Film Center and Railroad Square

The Film Center was established in 1986 as Friends of Art & Film in Central Maine, which changed its name last year. Haines' position with the film festival had been part-time. She also was Waterville Main Street executive director for 10 years before becoming the Film Center's first executive director in October.

Now, she works full time for the Film Center, whose mission is to enrich, educate and entertain the community through film and art, she said. It has worked with the cinema over the years to bring programs including MIFF in the Morning and the American Film Institute's Project 20/20.

Railroad Square has three theaters that seat 150, 90 and 48 patrons and is one of the best-known art houses in the country, Haines said. She believes that once the area establishes itself as a hub of film and film education, other film-related businesses will want to come here.

"Long-term, I think that this initiative has a lot of economic development potential for Waterville," she said.

Railroad Square Cinema was started as a corporation in 1978 by Ken Eisen, Alan Sanborn, Lea Girardin, Gail Chase and Stu Silverstein. While all those players are still part of the corporation, Eisen and Sanborn are the only members active in the cinema, with Eisen as its president and programmer, and Sanborn as vice president and cinema manager. With the sale, Eisen will continue as programmer and Sanborn, as manager.

As a nonprofit corporation, Railroad Square has no owners and no one profits from it. All its revenues pay for the mortgage and other costs associated with the cinema, according to Eisen.

Becoming nonprofit

The intention of Railroad Square founders all along was was to have both state and federal nonprofit status, but getting federal status long ago was difficult, Eisen said Monday. The Film Center's buying the cinema will allow it to pursue non-taxable donations and institute programs not based purely on commercial considerations, he said. The sale also will allow the cinema to get the backing it needs to have more innovative programs, according to Eisen.

"It's really a dream come true for us in that way," he said.

He called the upcoming purchase fantastic and said it is happening at a time when cinemas are being required to convert to digital projection.

Haines said the digital equipment will cost about $200,000, a cost that is prohibitive for many small theaters.

(Continued on page 2)

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