A new screen going up at the Eveningstar in Brunswick. Photo by Dave Jester

When I was a student at Bowdoin College, Brunswick’s Eveningstar Cinema was one of the few things that could lure this sheltered film fanatic off campus. At the height of its controversy, the Eveningstar booked Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” and teen me left the cozy, one-screen theater shell-shocked, stumbled to a bench on the Brunswick town green and stared into the dark for a long time.

One night, years later, the lovely projectionist I was dating at the time invited me up to the tiny projection booth, where I saw how the various reflections there magically projected a reverse image of 1997’s “Mrs. Dalloway” on the booth ceiling, my fingers tracing Vanessa Redgrave’s profile in something like movie fanatic heaven.

And while I’m long gone from college, the Eveningstar remains. In fact, the Brunswick institution, opened on Nov. 2, 1979, just celebrated its 40th anniversary as one of Maine’s premiere local, independent movie houses. That celebration comes complete with upgrades in projection and sound, a brand new movie screen and a new owner in Brunswick resident Shaun Boyle, who’s bringing a rededicated enthusiasm for both innovation and the way that the Eveningstar has served Maine movie fans for four decades.

Shaun Boyle took over Brunswick’s Eveningstar Cinema in July. Photo by Taylor Abbott/The Forecatser

“My wife teaches at Bowdoin, and we moved here in 2009,” Boyle said. “Honestly, when we started out, I saw it was for sale and thought, ‘Wow. It would be cool to buy a movie theater.’ ” And while such a sentiment might sound appropriately movie-geek familiar to fans of “Citizen Kane” (just substitute “newspaper” for “movie theater”), Boyle, who officially took over the Eveningstar on July 1, is all too aware of just how much hard work is involved – and the tricky balance between attracting new moviegoers and not alienating those who’ve kept the theater open for so long.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the film-booking and programming process,” Boyle said, “and I initially came at this wanting to just do cool programming – sort of like the Alamo Drafthouse or ArcLight models. But what you quickly learn is the practicality of all of it. We’re not here to change the core business model – the Eveningstar has always been profitable. It’s a very small profit, but it would have been stupid of me to, say, start only showing horror or genre films when the theater is doing so well with documentaries and sort of Merchant-Ivory, ‘Downton Abbey’ sorts of things.”

It’s been a learning process for Boyle (in his day job a freelance corporate events producer), with some growing pains right out of the gate. “I booked (R-rated comedy) ‘Booksmart,’ which I thought was the best available product, and it bombed. So I booked (acclaimed indie drama) ‘The Last Black Man In San Francisco,’ and that bombed even harder. Still, while I got feedback from loyal customers that they didn’t like the movies, they also told me they appreciated that I decided to program them.” Heading back to the drawing board, Boyle has sought to strike a balance between “servicing the audience that’s been so faithful,” and trying to bring in a more adventurous, younger-skewing audience with selections that are a little more daring.

“I’m definitely booking (acclaimed historical biopic and Oscar shoo-in) ‘Harriet’ now, but soon after that, I’m bringing in (Taika Waititi’s controversial WWII comedy) ‘Jojo Rabbit.’ Sort of a ‘one for me, one for them’ philosophy, although ‘Jojo’ is really, at its heart, a very traditional sort of WWII Holocaust movie.” (Albeit one with director Waititi as a little boy’s imaginary best friend, Adolph Hitler.) Said Boyle, “It’s really a question of expanding our audience without alienating people. When it comes down to it, it’s about finding a balance of films that people come to and that generate revenue. But, even in a college town, we need to expand our audience base if we’re going to survive.”

For Boyle – whose profession outside of the movie business relies on crystal-clear presentation – that’s meant starting out his tenure as the Eveningstar’s owner by overhauling the venerable theater’s overall movie-going experience, right down to the bare walls. “I’m pretty sure that our old movie screen was the one from 1979,” Boyle said, laughing. A new state-of-the-art projection surface has just been installed. In addition, the new Eveningstar boasts a new speaker array, new optical glass for the digital projector to project through, and even a new frame and draperies around the screen.

In addition, Boyle has upgraded the theater’s accessibility, incorporating new closed-captioning and assistive-and-descriptive listening devices, and improved accommodations for wheelchairs. “We’re competing with people’s 4K televisions. We need these investments in order to be attractive,” Boyle said. And, in keeping with the reverent but progressive blend of old and new, Boyle has kept his promise to keep on all the Eveningstar employees, knowing that they, as much as the movies and the popcorn (served, as ever, with real butter), are what keep people coming back.

For Boyle, there’s a mix of practicality and movie fandom guiding his stewardship of the Brunswick landmark now under his care. “These places need to exist in communities,” Boyle said. “If they go away, the multiplexes are never going to book these films and bring these special features to Maine.” And while Brunswick’s mixed-use movie, music, and fine dining venue Frontier pulls its weight in bringing good movies to the area, Boyle – speaking with a simplicity and purpose that those of us in Portland without our own one-screen dedicated art theater can only appreciate – concluded, “This place needs to exist, and that’s why I bought it.”

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

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