Portland has a population of nearly 70,000 people. Ellsworth has about 8,000. One of these cities has a dedicated art house movie theater. Guess which?
The Grand Theater in Ellsworth opened in 1938 and boasts original Art Deco architecture and, as of Saturday, a state-of-the-art digital projection and sound system that rivals that of any corporate chain theater in the state. Portland’s got the good old Nickelodeon, and the fine folks at PMA Films and SPACE Gallery do yeoman’s work by bringing in independent and foreign films, but since the Movies On Exchange Street closed back in 2009, Portland hasn’t had a real independent movie theater to call its own.
Maybe we just haven’t been lucky enough to have people like Carla Haskell on the case. The president of The Grand’s board of directors, Haskell and her dedicated team spearheaded the fundraising campaign that raised the daunting $165,000 necessary for the venerable theater to switch over from aging and decaying Blu-ray projectors to the shiny new digital system. (Technically, the Grand is still looking for the last $12,000 or so to complete the project, so feel free to visit its GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/thegrandellsworth to help bring the project all the way home.)
Still, The Grand is unveiling its new and improved system with a 3-D screening of the delightful Pixar film “Up” on Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. (Yes, the new system can play 3-D as well.) Admission for the special event is free, but there’s a suggested donation of $5 for those wishing to support this revitalized local institution. It’s a steal for such a great movie, and as Haskell explains, a great way for The Grand to celebrate its connection to the Ellsworth community that’s been so supportive.
“Like a lot of non-profits, we saw the cost and thought, ‘Do we really have to do this?’ “Haskell said. “But our two older projectors, one completely failed, and the other was on the way out. We saw the cost of replacing them was about half the cost of digital, so it made sense.”
To make that sensible dream a reality, The Grand reached out to local Hancock County businesses to find major donors, which include First National Bank, Coastal Eye Care and Mrs. Edith Dixon, as well as an anonymous benefactor who put up the first $50,000 as a matching grant. “That was just huge for us,” said Haskell, “It really helped to start us talking in a serious way in the community.”
That Ellsworth community is central to The Grand’s mission, as the theater has a long history of programming an admirably eclectic slate of entertainment options — a selection that will only grow with the capabilities of the new technology. Citing the shrinking number of movie venues statewide, Haskell said, “There a not a lot of options for us around here. We love bringing cultural products into the area. Not just movies, but presentations of Broadway shows, museum tours, rock concerts. It all really appeals to this kind of community.”
As to what Portlanders might take from The Grand’s improbable success, Haskell stresses the unique pleasures of the small theater movie experience. “It’s a big night out. You have this experience in a beautiful Art Deco theater. You go out to eat. For us, it’s about capturing and understanding the experience of the patron. Delivering on that is really important. It’s not just about the technology.”
Of course, a lot of hard work and some generous donors help, too.
“Up” is showing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Grand, 165 Main St., Ellsworth. The movie’s rated PG, and the screening is free, with a $5 suggested donation. Check out The Grand’s website, grandonline.org, for directions and details.
Coming to local screens
Friday-Sunday: “The Brand New Testament.” The new film from acclaimed Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael (“Toto the Hero”) posits two things: God exists, and He’s kind of a jerk. Living in a Brussels apartment, this God spends all his time tormenting us with random rules – at least until His rebellious teen daughter decides it’s time for a few changes.
Monday: “All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone.” With the press currently under assault, it seems like a great time to check out this documentary about maverick journalist Stone, who examined how giant media conglomerates find ways to abrogate their responsibility to expose governmental deception.