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We Need People to Say They Want a Movie Theater

Independent film producer Doug Tirola and Sandy Lefkowitz, head of the Westport Cinema Initiative on Thursday offered 150 Y’s Men of Westport-Weston an overview of their efforts to return a movie theater to downtown Westport.

Tirola grew up in Westport in the 1970s and has fond memories of his parents taking him to movies as a child. He recently returned with his family. Now he’s playing a part in bringing back the sense of community he found at our small local movie theaters, places he recalled where he met his friends, where they shared good times.

While Tirola was a graduate writing student at Columbia University he snuck into a class taught by Michael Hausman, a producer and director whose credits included Hair and Amadeus. He became a $40 a day intern, performing such glamorous tasks as cleaning out an abandoned fish warehouse so it could be transformed into a restaurant set.

But, he said, “there was something magical about it.” Community. Again. He said being part of a movie “consumes your life” while it draws you into an exciting group of like minded people.

Tirola worked his way up – or through – the process, and is now a documentary producer with seven films to his credit. He is shooting today at Dunville’s, another place that means community to him. The subject is mixologists – “high end bartenders” whose skills include creating new cocktails as well as community.

About Westport, he said he understands the economic pressures that drove out the small theaters, but now wants to help bring back the magic.

Ms. Lefkowitz joined him at the podium. She said the objective of the Cinema Initiative is to add a venue for independent films to the list of things that makes Westport unique. She said they are in active negotiation on a property that will afford them a three screen, 200 seat home in the heart of Main Street. Three screens make the theater more attractive to distributors, and so offer the prospect of better movies.

Responding to questions, she said the Initiative was not involved with the request recently defeated by the Planning & Zoning commission for a 60 foot tall building.

Why not look at the Fairfield Community Theater? “It’s about Westport” Tirola said.

Asked about the business model, Lefkowitz said “the Initiative is a 501(c)3, a not for profit, supported by membership, admissions and donations” – a “true community supported enterprise.”

Tirola closed saying “I want to take my kid to the movies on Main Street.” Lefkowitz added “we need your help, we need people to say they want a theater.”

It seemed they had already won it.

Roy Fuchs