There’s something about Waterville that keeps people coming back.

If I had to name the reasons, I’d say first that those who live and work here are nice and genuine.

They are welcoming and interested.

The city loves and supports education and the arts.

Waterville is home to the largest art museum in the state — the Colby College Museum of Art — for which benefactors such as Peter and Paula Lunder and Paul J. Schupf have contributed many incredible works, enabling visitors from all walks of life to have access to and enjoy, free of charge, such treasures.

We have an exquisite Waterville Opera House, which affords us varied entertainment including musicals, ballet, concerts, children’s shows and other events.

The award-winning Waterville Public Library welcomes patrons of all ages and circumstances, providing a place where they may travel the world from their armchairs, indulge in classic as well as modern works, use the career center and take part in free programs.

And then there is the Maine International Film Festival, which draws thousands of movie enthusiasts to the city for 10 days each July, turning the city into a magical place where wonderful films from around the globe are screened and visitors get to meet, socialize with and learn from some of the world’s best actors, directors, writers and producers.

I believe it is this dedication to and support of the arts, from these and other institutions and organizations, that not only draws people to the city, but also makes them want to return.

And in some cases, bearing great gifts.

Schupf, an art collector and Colby benefactor, first came to Waterville in 1985, not knowing a soul. He grew to love the city, its people, Colby and the college’s support of the arts. In April, Schupf, 82, of Hamilton, New York,  committed $2 million for a Colby College Museum of Art contemporary art gallery in the future $18 million-to-$20 million center for art and film, to be developed at 93 Main St. downtown. A few weeks later, he gave an even more significant contribution to the center, which will be named for Schupf to acknowledge his generosity.

Colby president David A. Greene and Waterville Creates! president and chief executive officer Shannon Haines have led a fundraising effort for the art and film center. On May 24, Haines announced another gift, this time from acclaimed actor Ed Harris, of $75,000.

Harris, for whom the center’s box office will be named, is a Waterville visitor who came back, you might say, in a big way.

Actor Ed Harris greets fans in the fall of 2003 during the shooting of the TV movie miniseries “Empire Falls” on Water Street in Waterville. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

Harris spent the better part of four months in Waterville in 2003 when the HBO movie “Empire Falls,” based on Richard Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, was filmed here. Russo, a former Waterville resident and Colby professor, was instrumental in bringing the cast and crew to Waterville.

I was fortunate to be able to cover much of the filming of “Empire Falls,” and even more so to be asked, along with Morning Sentinel photographer David Leaming, to be an extra in the film. We played a reporter and photographer, respectively, in a school shooting scene with Harris, spending an entire day at Waterville Senior High School, which was the setting for Empire Falls High School.

Ed Harris waves to a crowd of onlookers on Oct. 3, 2003, during a break from shooting on the set of “Empire Falls” at the Bob In tavern in Waterville. Morning Sentinel file photo

When Harris was here, he was particularly attentive to the people of Waterville and to fans who came from away to watch the filming despite his working long hours on the set. He always took the time to stop and chat with them. Before he returned to Waterville in July 2004 to accept the film festival’s prestigious Mid-Life Achievement Award, I interviewed Harris, who said he was delighted to be returning.

“If it wasn’t Waterville and it wasn’t Maine, I’m not sure I’d be so interested in coming,” he told me at the time. “I really had a good time in Maine. I met a lot of good people and appreciated the support from the community.”

In my interview, published July 1 that year in the Sentinel, Harris lauded Railroad Square Cinema, which will move to the future art and film center on Main Street. He also commended cinema officials, who, he said, had a good eye for interesting, substantive films, some of which he saw while he was here filming “Empire Falls.”

Harris revealed the reason he was so accessible, shopped in local stores and spent time getting to know the people here:

“I’m not the most social individual,” he said, “but I do feel if you’re in a community and moving in for a month at a time, there’s a certain amount of respect to be paid to those who are helping you and what you’re trying to do. A little bit of friendship or good thought goes a long way on both sides.”

It certainly does. And for yours, Mr. Harris, we are most grateful.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

 

 

 

 

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