WATERVILLE — Choosing the Maine Film Center to receive the Community Service Project of the Year award was easy for the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.
In the last year and a half, the film center has bought, has stabilized and now is renovating Railroad Square Cinema and gearing up for the 17th annual Maine International Film Festival, said Kimberly Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.
The center also partners with the Colby College Museum of Art and Colby’s cinema studies program, the Maine Jewish Film Festival, Mid-Maine Technical Center’s mass media communications program, the Waterville Opera House and other organizations; has added new programs; and continues to enhance the region, both culturally and economically, according to Lindlof.
“The Maine Film Center is a natural for the award because its founding kind of pulled together the film initiatives of the region,” Lindlof said. “It now puts the Maine International Film Center, Railroad Square Cinema and some of the initiatives it has launched at the Opera House all under one umbrella.”
And Shannon Haines is the right person to be leading up that effort because of her passion and expertise in film, Lindlof said.
Haines is not only executive director of the film center, but also director of the annual international film festival, which brings more than 100 American, international and locally made independent films to Waterville. Haines is also a former director of Waterville Main Street, a group that promotes downtown initiatives.
Film center officials appreciate the chamber’s recognition for its efforts with the award, according to Haines. The awards banquet is scheduled for April 29 at the Elks banquet hall in Waterville.
“This vote of confidence from the chamber really means a lot to us,” she said. “Obviously, we have an arts and culture focus, but also an economic development goal, working with the chamber. We really want Waterville to be the center of film in Maine.”
The 10-day film festival, to be held July 11-20 this year, screens films at both Railroad Square and the Opera House and brings actors, producers and directors to the city to discuss film and film-making with movie enthusiasts from all over the country and world. Ed Harris, Sissy Spacek, Jonathan Demme, John Turturro, Bud Cort, Keith Carradine, Peter Fonda and Terrence Malick are among those who have been honored at the festival.
Now is a busy time for the film center, as officials confirm guests and other arrangements, Haines said.
“The final push is happening now,” she said.
The film center’s office is at 76 Main St. downtown, and its mission is to enrich, educate and entertain the community through film and art.
The nonprofit organization aims to further that vision by buying Railroad Square, which, like other independent cinemas, was struggling financially and needed to buy costly but necessary digital equipment to stay in business, according to Haines. The film center raised the money, bought new signs, improved landscaping and now is enlarging the cinema’s lobby and adding up to 500 square feet of space for its tenant, Buen Apetito restaurant, she said.
The cinema and restaurant previously shared an entrance, but the renovations are creating separate entrances and will allow for more interactive space in the cinema’s lobby.
Haines and nine others will share a table at the chamber’s award banquet. Michele Leavitt, president of the film center’s board of directors, will be there as well.
“Receiving the Mid-Maine Chamber Award will be a sweet affirmation of all that Shannon, the Maine Film Center staff and our volunteers have done to create a thriving, vibrant film culture in central Maine,” Leavitt said. “Our board of directors is a visionary group, dedicated to finding new and creative ways to bring great films and cultural engagement opportunities to our audiences.”
Leavitt, whose husband is Unity College President Stephen Mulkey, teaches writing and transdisciplinary courses at the college, co-directs the Honors Program there and serves as an outreach specialist.