It remains baffling to me that Portland, as cool and film-forward as we are, doesn’t have an independent arthouse movie theater to call its own. And I know all about Portland’s real estate market, the vagaries of running such a business, and the fact that currently opening a new movie theater during a pandemic would be completely bananas – but still. A city without an arthouse theater is missing something essential from its soul. 

Thankfully for folks in Waterville, the Railroad Square Cinema remains an exemplar for what an indie movie theater should be. And while I already knew that Railroad Square was great and everything, the recent announcement of its in-progress Cinema Explorations film series reasserts its position as the sort of place every community truly needs. 

An unassuming, seven-movie screening series, Cinema Explorations represents Railroad Square’s long history of community engagement.

“We turn it over to members of the filmgoing community,” said Mike Perreault, executive director of the Maine Film Center, which runs Railroad Square. “They’ve been supporting Railroad Square for a long time, they love movies, and a lot of them have been with us right from the beginning.” 

Going on for decades, the series is just another way in which the Maine Film Center has sought to make moviegoing in Central Maine a truly participatory and community-based way of life. Each year, a group of patrons gets together and screens, debates, then schedules a lineup of films that, as Perreault says, “otherwise wouldn’t be shown at Railroad Square, for various reasons.” 

Robert Shetterly paints a portrait of Penobscot activist Maulian Dana in “Truth Tellers.” Photos courtesy of Kane-Lewis Productions

This year’s eclectic and moviegoer-chosen crop includes everything from this week’s “Truth Tellers,” about Maine-based artist Robert Shetterly, to February features “Luzzu” (Malta’s Oscar submission, about a fisherman struggling to support his family) and the stirring musical documentary “How They Got Over,” about the Black gospel groups who helped create rock ‘n’ roll. Later films in the series include the documentary “After Antarctica,” about polar explorer Will Steger; the Japanese WWII thriller “Wife of a Spy”; and the ever-stunning 2001 documentary “Winged Migration,” whose gorgeous depiction of birds in flight remains a big-screen must. 

Said Perrault of the all-volunteer Central Maine flock of film enthusiasts who annually migrate to Railroad Square for these community-based Cinematic Explorations, “They’re generous supporters of Railroad Square, members, and patrons from all around Central Maine who love to meet up and talk about movies.”

Crediting railroad Square’s manager Alan Sanborn for keeping this unique series so vital, Perreault said he’s “always super-pleased” at these film fanatics’ choices, calling the yearly Cinema Explorations “some of the most memorable films I see all year.”

Oh, and did I mention that the Cinema Explorations series costs nothing to attend? As Perreault notes, happily, this year’s patronage from the Colby College Center for Arts and Humanities means that these weekend matinee screenings are, for the first time, free and open to the public. (And here he and I provide the caveat that Railroad Square’s sensible COVID policies require proof of vaccination and masking for all attendees.) 

Film fans at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville during the Maine International Film Festival in July. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

And also here, I’ll once more return to my soapbox about the role a really great movie theater can play in the life of a community. Sure, Railroad Square always books adventurously, bringing Maine filmgoers the best and most ambitious films from around the world and right here in Maine. But programs like Cinema Explorations show how the relationship between a city and its theater can grow into something mutually rewarding. 

A free winter film series curated by the very people who’ve supported Railroad Square since its 1978 opening is a gift given and received with equal care and affection. It’s a weird and wonderful expression of the creativity and love a community can have for its independent movie theater, and vice-versa. 

Railroad Square’s Cinema Explorations film series goes on through the end of March. All showings are at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For the full schedule, go to watervillecreates.org.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: