Editor’s note: This is the first in a monthly series profiling indie moviehouses dedicated to providing the state’s film fanatics with the widest variety of films from Maine and around the world. This week: Frontier Cafe + Cinema + Gallery in Brunswick.

Just a half-hour drive from Portland up 295, this 85-seat cinema, art gallery and food and drink-ery has modeled the sort of ambitiously booked, multifaceted arthouse cinema that I still find it inconceivable Portland lacks.

I spoke with founder Michael (Gil) Gilroy and programming director Sean Morin about the evolving history of Frontier, and what it takes to keep a single-screen art theater going strong.

In programming your films, what’s the balance between commercial considerations and artistic ones?

Gil: Good question – that’s the business side of an indie theater. It’s one thing to pick films we think will bring an audience, but some films are triggered by the community, or filmmakers themselves will contact us. We can often use that excitement to build support for a particular film.

Sean: There are things we want to associate with Frontier – as a hub for culture, a meeting place. How that translates in film is the stories. Generally, documentaries do best for us because they center so strongly on story. Sometimes, as with “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” it did well because it was fun. But ones that are semi-educational as well, like “Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy” (about Noam Chomsky), or “Blackfish” – you’re not going home feeling well, but they did very well, too. It’s about the story.


How do you view Frontier’s role in supporting Maine filmmakers?

Gil: In support of our mission of connecting people to the world, we have a responsibility to give time to local artists. If they come to us, we’ll almost always show a local film, regardless of quality. I give credit to anyone who makes a film. Plus, they’ll have a local following. It’ll be a celebration.

Sean: We’re judging those on a different level. These guys are doing really fantastic jobs and they have built-in support. If I could do more local films over a commercial film, I would do that.

Gil: A local film, especially if it’s decent, I’d put up against any film for a night. Our best-selling nights were with local filmmakers.

How does Frontier compete? (And why doesn’t Portland have our own Frontier?)

Gil: I thought I would be doing this in Portland 10 years ago, but I realized that at the time, the market was saturated for a lot of venues, like the Movies on Exchange Street and Space Gallery (which still does a great job), and others. We chose this location thinking of it more as a destination, which changes the way you view it. It puts pressure on the business of showing film. It’s not really about ticket sales, unfortunately – even with Regal Cinemas, it’s about popcorn. For us, it’s either be a nonprofit or find another means to keep doors open, and for us it’s food and beverage; in order to stay viable we had to expand on the food bit. It’s a real balance.

Sean: We’re always hoping to gain a better idea of how to make more connections with our audience. How do we get more people in our seats? How do we use social media to connect? For example, we learned that if you truncate the amount of times you’re showing a film, people will actually come to the one screening – make it an event.

Gil: There’s pressure competing with endless amounts of media outlets showing movies instantly. It challenges us and requires a business to be more creative.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.

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