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Aim is to show old, foreign, independent films


Staff writer

Friends of the Leonardtown Theater, a group working to revitalize the old movie theater downtown, is scheduled to hold its first reception and screening tonight.

The group has invited Leonardtown business owners, elected officials, and members of the arts community to attend the event, designed to give the town a sense of what it hopes to accomplish as it raises funds to make improvements to the theater. Reservations were required by Feb. 20.

The first showing will be “A Good Year,” a romantic comedy, starring Russell Crowe. It has “a little more substance” than most romantic comedies, said Jim Bershon, a theater buff, retired dentist and Leonardtown resident who will be working on programming efforts for the group. And, it’s a departure from the high-budget, action films that Crowe usually takes on.

The theater revitalization group hopes its efforts will support the town’s push to add depth and variety to its already growing arts community. Leonardtown is currently seeking an arts and entertainment district designation from the state — a designation that would offer financial incentives to attract and retain artists and cultural venues.

Bershon said the goal is not to compete with commercial theaters, but to show American independent films, foreign films and a long list of classics. There would be film courses, and children’s series, all looking at the medium as an art form, Bershon said.

He remembers being about 7 years old, around 1952, and seeing his first film, “King Solomon’s Mines.” There was a stampede that frightened and intrigued him. It was the beginning of his love for the art form. “Film is really a portal to other people’s lives, other countries, broadening your own ability to look at the world,” he said.

It could cost about $1 million and could take several years to make the old theater, located just off the square behind the El Cerro Grande restaurant, ready for the community, group members say.

Group member Joe Orlando, who also owns Fenwick Street Used Books & Music, said the theater, built in the 1940s, is basically just brick walls and a floor today. “There’s extensive work that needs to be done. We have gotten some bids,” he said.

“I think this is something that is really needed and desired by the community,” he said. “Leonardtown has so many great things going for it and I think the theater will really just be the icing on the cake.”

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