Belfast’s Colonial Theatre has been closed for a year. A filmmaker is documenting efforts to bring it back. Photos courtesy of Anne Continelli

Belfast’s Colonial Theatre has been closed for a year. Last September, the longtime owners of that venerable Art Deco Maine movie palace retired, and since then the Colonial’s three screens have gone dark. Well, except for one night.

May of this year saw the Colonial’s sidewalk neon flicker to life once again for a screening of independent director Anne Continelli’s documentary “Citizen Coolidge,” about the valiant and ultimately successful efforts of a group of Boston-area film lovers to save the likewise venerable arthouse, the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Massachusetts. Turnout for the one-time-only free screening was robust, both in terms of attendance and enthusiasm, as Continelli’s film marked the beginning of the effort to revive this 111-year-old movie haven.

“I was working on ‘Citizen Coolidge’ and kept thinking, ‘My God, this story is tremendous,’ ” Continelli said of her depiction of the Coolidge’s unlikely escape from extinction. “But I also thought, ‘This isn’t a complete story.’ I found myself asking, ‘What is Act 3?’ ”

Inspiration came from the dispiriting news of the Colonial’s closing, with Continelli, a frequent Belfast visitor and Massachusetts native, spotting troubling yet potentially optimistic parallels to her just-completed tale of independent cinema versus changing entertainment trends – and unforeseen catastrophe. “I got word about the Colonial and thought that this was about the same sort of market forces. For the Coolidge, it was VHS; for the Colonial, it was streaming and then the pandemic. I thought, OK, this is Act 3. This is the bigger picture.”

That wider perspective on the perilous state of the local independent arthouse movie theater is a running theme in Continelli’s in-production documentary about the efforts to resurrect the Colonial, fittingly titled, “The Big Picture.” As the filmmaker explains, there’s more lost in the closing of the neighborhood theater than just the place itself.

“I love this stuff – it’s almost like sociology,” said Continelli. “In addition to losing a beautiful movie theater, losing the Colonial meant a loss of a community gathering space in a time when our country is already so fractured. Part of the film examines the neuroscience of shared experiences – particularly ones where we have potentially life-altering experiences like the movies.”


Is that too much weight to put on a place where people munch popcorn in the dark? Well, anybody who’s read this column for more than a few minutes knows how I feel about that; my laments over the loss of  movie oases like Portland’s Movies on Exchange Street or Videoport resound with an old movie hound’s loss, and loneliness.

Movies are wonderful, transformative things. In the teaser trailer for “The Big Picture,” retiring co-owner Mike Hurley calls movies “the greatest storytelling medium” ever devised, and I’m with him. Continelli shares her experience of seeing Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful” and watching sniffling strangers pass each other tissues as the lights went up. I recall a Movies on Exchange audience rip into spontaneous applause at the rousing conclusion of 1996’s “Muhammad Ali: When We Were Kings.” Bonds are formed in a movie theater, whether you realize it or not, the potently persuasive art that is cinema bringing together people who otherwise might not agree on, well, anything.

“When people find events to go to and experience things together, they will be bonded,” said Continelli, who cites the seaport town of Belfast as a uniquely apt example. “Belfast is a fantastic blend of longstanding townies and progressives who’ve moved in, peacefully coexisting. And the Colonial, with its three screens, can show a Marvel movie and an indie film on the same night. That will be the challenge of the new artistic director of the Colonial. When you run a community theater, you have to ask, ‘Who are the community?’ ”

(Here, I’ll also note how Belfast rallied to keep one of Maine’s only remaining video stores in operation as well. Keep the lights burning, Opera House Video!)

The Colonial opened for one night in May to screen “Citizen Coolidge,” a documentary about saving a theater in Brookline, Mass.

For Continelli, “The Big Picture” is another chance to examine just how passionate a community gets when faced with the closure of its beloved local movie theater, only in real time. “In screening ‘Citizen Coolidge,’ it was me asking, ‘How can I help save the Colonial?’ It was amazing seeing the community so pumped and motivated, and that’s only continued since. With ‘The Big Picture,’ unlike ‘Citizen Coolidge,’ which relied on interviews long after the events, I can follow the fight to bring back the Colonial in real time.”

Oh, and about that …


A quick glance at the website of Belfast’s Worth Real Estate, Inc. reveals one tantalizing fact hidden in the Colonial Theatre’s listing. There, the Colonial’s 163 High St. location, listed for the reasonable price of $1.3 million, is currently categorized as “pending.” A quick Google of real estate jargon defines “pending” as “the contingencies have already been met, and the buyer is preparing to close on the property.” Now, I stress that I don’t have any inside information, but I can read reasonably well. So watch this space for news, is what I’m saying.

In the meantime, there’s still lots to be done, both in bringing one of Maine’s last standing movie palaces back to vibrant life and for Continelli, who is currently shooting (and self-funding) “The Big Picture.” “I’m actively fundraising (see the film’s crowdfunding page to donate), looking for donors and angel investors. I’ll be going for grants, too, but currently I’m funding as I’m filming.” Continelli also notes how several Maine notables, like actor and author John Hodgman, have joined the cause.

It’s almost like we’re in the middle of a particularly intense, thematically dense, and – I genuinely hope – ultimately feel-good movie.

You can help write that happy ending by watching “The Big Picture’s” trailer and donating toward the film’s completion at

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