Before the age of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, before tens of thousands of movies were available for our viewing pleasure at the tapping of a couple of keys and even before the first Blockbuster opened its doors, the Eveningstar Cinema shone brightly in the Tontine Mall of Maine Street, delivering small-studio indie movies to Brunswick’s most discerning fans. Over the summer, the cinema was purchased by filmmaker and freelance producer Shaun Boyle, who hopes to preserve the legacy of Eveningstar in the Brunswick community and keep it profitable in the face of modern challenges by making some small changes.
In 1980, months after the Eveningstar opened (and when a box of Sno-caps went for a mere 85 cents), the Orient published a review of the theater, praising it as a place where a “dedicated cinema-phile [could] sate his desire for a good flick.” Since then much has changed in the way people tend to watch movies, yet Eveningstar remains a local institution. Boyle, who studied film production and theory at Hampshire College and received an M.F.A. in Documentary Filmmaking from the City College of New York, emphasized the importance of a local venue in which moviegoers can catch a film not screened at the local multiplex theater.
“Without places like Eveningstar and like Frontier, a lot of these films would never come to this market,” Boyle said. “It’s important in that regard that a place like this is here, that downtown, you could see a foreign film … or an art film that’s going to challenge an audience more.”
Since purchasing the theatre, Boyle has updated the premises while maintaining its cozy and creative atmosphere. A new screen was installed last week, and old couches were taken out to make space for accessible seating in the front, making the theatre compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The snack counter is decorated with a colorful garland crocheted by the manager, a lively mural brightens the dark walls, and the smell of buttered popcorn lingers in the air. It’s the warm, welcoming environment and the independent spirit of Eveningstar that make it so special. For Boyle, it’s reminiscent of a place he used to frequent as a college student in small western Massachusetts.
“There’s a theater in Northampton that the Eveningstar reminds me a lot of,” he said, smiling. Perhaps Eveningstar will come to occupy a similar place in the memory of Bowdoin students—something to look fondly upon after graduation.
While the primary audience of Eveningstar tends to be the older residents of Brunswick, Boyle has been introducing program he hopes will appeal to younger and more diverse audiences. The cinema is currently showing “Harriet,” a critically-acclaimed biopic by director Kasi Lemmons. Beginning on Friday, “Jojo Rabbit,” a film by New Zealand comedian Taika Waititi about a boy whose imaginary best friend is Hitler, will open. Screenings of a new Adam Sandler film called “Uncut Gems,” a new movie adaptation of “Little Women” arriving in December and showings of “Downtown Abbey” are all to come.
Having attended high school in South Korea and witnessed the birth of the New Korean Cinema movement, Boyle is particularly excited for the theater to begin screening “Parasite,” directed by Korean Filmmaker Boon Jong-ho, at the end of November. The film is both a box office hit and a contender to be the first foreign language film to pick up an Oscar for Best Picture. Boyle also looks forward to a one-night holiday screening of one of his favorite movies, Die Hard.
Satisfying the theater’s longstanding customer base is important for Eveningstar to remain profitable, Boyle explained, but attracting new audiences who might enjoy a different type of film is one of his goals as well.
“You’re kind of doing it for the love of the whole thing and not necessarily to make money off of it,” Boyle said. “And my goal is to make it sustainable as it moves.”