Around Valentine’s Day, you hear all kinds of love stories.

About childhood sweethearts who find each other again after many years and marry; about elderly people finding love for the first time; of widows and widowers getting a second chance at love.

But there are also love stories of a different sort — ones you may not categorize as romantic, but involve a kind of romance nonetheless.

In Waterville, where Railroad Square Cinema has been showing independent and foreign films for the last 33 years, three couples have gotten together to show their love and appreciation for the cinema, which has managed to stay afloat despite a rotten economy.

You might say the reason for its survival is the great love affair the cinema’s founders and fans have with films you don’t typically see at larger commercial theaters.

Not to say commercial theaters don’t have quality films — they do — and Railroad Square screens some of those in addition to the independent ones.

But back to those three couples — Julie de Sherbinin and her husband, Nat Shed, of Waterville; Bill Jefferson and his wife, Bevin Engman, of Winslow; and Peter Nutting and his partner, Susan Brew, of China.

The film enthusiasts devised a way for Railroad Square fans to show their love, support and appreciation for the local cinema, which the couples have patronized for years.

It’s called Love the Square, and is organized in two parts: First, people are being asked to hand-deliver or mail valentines to the cinema at 17 Railroad Square, Waterville, ME, 04901-6139, and include a donation if they desire; and second, they are invited to an informal reception from 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, to share some sweets and their love of film.

De Sherbinin, who came up with the idea, says she admires the cinema founders and employees for their dedication.

“Love the Square was really just a sense of, wouldn’t it be nice to let them know how valuable they are?” she said.

A teacher of Russian language and literature at Colby College, de Sherbinin downplays her expertise about films, saying she is drawn to them for diverse reasons:

“I’m not a filmie. I’m not really knowledgeable about films. I just love them.”

Jefferson, a filmmaker, film critic, and Railroad Square fan, volunteer and supporter, recalls that he and his wife moved away from Maine in 1991 and came back in 1996, not sure what he would do for work once they returned.

“But we both knew we could survive here because Railroad Square was here,” he said.

Now that’s what I call devotion.

Nutting tells a similar tale, saying he has been a fan of Railroad Square for 26 years, since moving to Maine from Ithaca, N.Y.

When Railroad Square posted a note on its website last fall saying attendance was off, Nutting and his wife sprung to action and became cinema members.

“That hit home,” he said. “As co-owner of the Iron Horse Bookstore from 1989 to 1995, which was the close neighbor of the original Railroad Square Cinema (which burned and was rebuilt), I know when a distress signal goes out, one needs to act.”

Despite all the other ways for getting and seeing films — online, through the mail, via satellite — there’s nothing quite like sitting in a theater and watching with an audience, getting to share the laughter and, sometimes, the tears.

It’s kind of like the difference between sitting alone, detached from the world and hoping love will come to you, instead of going out and pursuing it yourself.

You might say de Sherbinin and her friends are doing the latter — going to bat for something they love.

Their efforts do not go unnoticed. Without people like de Sherbinin and her friends, the cinema, a nonprofit corporation, would not exist, says Ken Eisen, a Railroad Square founder.

He said one of the reasons he and other founders and staff love the cinema is that the community has been so supportive. He calls the Valentine’s Day effort by de Sherbinin and friends “extraordinary.”

“It makes us feel valued and like we’re doing something right, even if we’re not making a whole lot of money. It’s really sweet.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]


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