There’s nothing in this world a true movie buff loves more than a local single screen art house cinema. Unless it’s an independent video store.
Well, I have good news for you.
While Portland remains amazingly art-house film-free, a short drive on I-295 brings you to Brunswick’s Eveningstar Cinema, which since 1978 has been this happy city’s home to quality film fare from around the world. And while the pandemic has done even more damage to independent cinemas than the big chains, Eveningstar owner Shaun Boyle and his staff have persevered, even expanding the theater’s dig at Brunswick’s Tontine Mall with a new entrance, an enlarged and improved concession stand and – wait for it – a brand new video library.
“Our old concessions and ticketing area was like a ship’s galley,” joked Boyle, who has owned Eveningstar since 2019. “But now, with the new build, we’ve taken over the hallway and a common area so we can actually face people coming into the mall. It gave me an idea of what could work there to complement the theatre’s main business.”
But video stores are dead, right? (Here I’ll just pour one for Portland’s deceased, lamented video port. RIP, old pal.) Well, Boyle — pointing out the Alamo Drafthouse’s recent rescue of Manhattan’s Kim’s video — has a really brilliant idea on this now that Eveningstar is reopening Video Rental Venture stocks around 1,700 films representing every single film that has played at the Eveningstar over the last 40 years.
It’s a great hook and a brilliant plan, merging the history of indie theater with a side business that will only draw more movie fans to the Tontine. And i love it.
As local film buffs will know, the Tontine is no stranger to major video stores, as the late, also-defunct Bart and Greg DVD Explosion (which eventually closed in 2017) resided on the ground floor of the Eveningstar. And Bart and Greg’s will live on in the Eveningstar’s new store, as previous owner Bart D’Alauro has teamed up with Boyle to fill some of the more obscure films from the theater’s past.
“Once word got around that we were going to add a video element to the concession stand, Bart reached out,” Boyle said. “When I was planning it, I figured you could get a pretty good collection for cheap these days – which I found you really can’t. Bart lends us a good chunk of his videos to fill in the holes, some of which still have Bart and Greg’s stickers on them. It is nice to feel this history.”
Another surprisingly difficult task for Boyle was simply tracking down the names of all the films. “We’re looking at films from 40 years ago,” Boyle said, “and things didn’t get digitized until 1996 or so.” So Boyle and his collaborators did a search, eventually turning to the local library’s microfiche for the full Cobble together a catalog from Eveningstar ads in the Brunswick Times Record and our own Press Herald. “It was a fun little research project,” Boyle said.
As for the now-opened Eveningstar video store, Boyle explains that while the rentals are open to all, Eveningstar supporters get a discount on the store’s already quite reasonable prices. And while Boyle says the process of setting up the necessary distribution database, like the process of buying films, was more difficult than he thought, he’s excited about this new branch of his theater business.
“In a single-screen theater, there is some downtime so staff can run the business,” Boyle said. “We’re still starting to spy on customer habits. We have the drop box and late fee policy. We are toying with the idea of monthly memberships and other ideas. We will adapt when we go.”
Customization is key. That Eveningstar’s video library doesn’t have to carry the commercial weight of the business is smart, given that streaming services have all but wiped out the video rentals industry. Rather than ranting about the capricious nature of the streaming experience, here’s Boyle: “You don’t get that tactile thing with streaming, there’s not that same sense of discovery. Also, as we’ve seen, things are leaving streaming services. Here we have a player in the store and the other day someone came in to buy tickets and Fargo was on TV. Employees and customers started talking. It was very nice.”
There are other improvements for the Eveningstar as well. A new laser projector is coming soon, in line with Boyle’s belief that “an art house theater should offer the best viewing experience”. And while Boyle says foot traffic has been “miserable” during the pandemic in recent years, the Eveningstar’s reliable list of excellent and unique big-screen films has got Maine moviegoers flocking to the theater. (Masks and vaccination records are still required responsibly.)
Will Eveningstar’s experiment with film distribution bring back the video library? No, unfortunately gone are the days when you could swipe your fingers over a lovingly curated library of movies at one of the many handy video rental stores, thanks to the lure of couch-bound convenience. (Yes, I’m still bitter.) But a lovingly curated library of movies as part of the experience of going to a great local movie theater is back, thanks to Boyle and his staff to remind us how special that was.
So go to the Eveningstar. Buy a ticket. Rent a movie. And, for heaven’s sake, keep your hands off the shiny side of the disc, you monsters.
Eveningstar Video is open daily from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at 149 Maine St., Brunswick. For more information, call 207-729-6796 or visit eveningstarcinema.com.
Dennis Perkins lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.