When the Movies on Exchange Street locked its wrought-iron gates for the final time in late 2008, Maine film fans mourned. We felt the sudden absence of Portland’s only neighborhood one-screen theater. We were saddened at the prospect of having to schlep out to the overpriced plastic comforts of the chain theaters by the Maine Mall instead of just slouching into the Movies’ cramped, grubby seats and sometimes straining to hear the dialogue. We grieved for the knowledgeable, snarky employees and the underpriced snacks.

But most of all, we lamented the loss of the one theater in town that catered to our insatiable desire for the best, the weirdest, the most obscure films the world had to offer.

In retrospect, we may have overreacted a bit.

That’s because when owners Stephen and Judy Halpert shuttered the Movies on Exchange Street (after 32 years), they simply moved up Congress Street and opened up shop at the Portland Museum of Art, rechristening their shows Movies at the Museum (portlandmuseum.org.)

And while the Movies’ new digs had some downside (showings only on weekends, the imposing cleanliness and brightness of a museum rather than the inviting murk beloved of film freaks), it also offered significant improvements (better equipment and sound) and the continuity of the original owners’ stewardship.

“Steve Halpert is still in charge of the selection and booking,” assures PMA director of education Dana Baldwin, who, alongside Halpert, selects the films. “He has 30-plus years of experience and contacts in this business, and loyal Exchange Street customers remember the great selection he brought there.”

With Halpert’s help, Movies at the Museum has successfully carried on the Exchange Street mission, with more than 7,000 people visiting in each of the last two years to catch an impressively varied roster of foreign films, documentaries and occasional oddities. Still, concedes Kristen Levesque, PMA’s director of marketing and public relations, “I don’t think people realize what great movies we get.”

To remedy that, and perhaps to entice a wider (and, dare I say, younger) audience, Movies at the Museum is teaming up with Space Gallery, arguably Portland’s hippest movie (and art, and performance) venue, to co-sponsor screenings this fall.

The partnership begins with the raucous hip-hop documentary “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,” from Sept. 23 to 25. Then, from Oct. 14 to 16, the two venues will re-team to bring in the groundbreaking documentary “Life in a Day,” for which director Kevin Macdonald culled snippets of a single day from 80,000 YouTube videos from around the world.

Says Baldwin, “It’s exciting to work with other organizations, to bring new audiences to the museum, and then share with them our other programming.”

In addition to this partnership with Space, the Movies continues to schedule exciting, challenging films — look for the stirring South African film “Life, Above All” and “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress,” a documentary about what may be the oddest restaurant in the world, among others.

“We’ve got a number of New York Times critics’ picks, some that are screening right now in NYC, sometimes screening here before NYC,” says Baldwin.

So, Portland film fans, dry your eyes — the adventurous cinematic spirit of the Movies on Exchange Street is still alive. It’s just moved uptown a bit.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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: