This Waterville cinema went from DIY beginnings to a $18M arts center

Nearly 45 years ago, a group of Maine cinephiles began showing foreign films on government 16-millimeter projectors in an old Waterville liquor warehouse. They hadn’t set out to make money or gain recognition. They just loved movies and wanted to share the movies they loved with other people.

Decades later, Railroad Square Cinema and the Maine Film Center, the nonprofit that grew out of these DIY cinematic experiences, will be moving into the brand new $18 million Paul J. Schupf Art Center next month, alongside art galleries, a Café and the center’s parent organization, Waterville Creates.

For co-founder Ken Eisen, who was part of the ragtag group of movie nerds who screened Ingmar Bergman and Bernardo Bertolucci films in a working-class Maine factory town in the late 1970s, it’s hard to fathom just how far it all came is.

“If you had told us back then that something like this would happen when we opened our tiny little theater with the $15,000 we had scraped together, we would have thought it completely ridiculous,” Eisen said. “All we wanted back then was to stay open for as long as possible. And here we are. It’s kind of incredible to think about.”

For decades, the Railroad Square Cinema has been a beacon for movie lovers throughout eastern and central Maine. Even well into the streaming media era, everyone from college students to retirees headed to Waterville to catch the movies you just can’t catch at your local mainstream multiplex. If you live less than an hour from Waterville and want to see the latest film from directors like Pedro Almodovar, Wes Anderson or Richard Linklater, you most likely go to Railroad Square.

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