Jan 3, 2011
05:55 PMDiscover Connecticut
The Bantam Cinema
Business seems brisk for a Sunday night at the movies. But then again, this isn’t just any mainstream multiplex, it’s the Bantam Cinema—the oldest continuously operating movie theater in Connecticut. The unconventional art house is respected as much for its commitment to staying in sync with its clientele as for its 82-year history.
There’s no star-studded marquee, just a sign that hangs from the old red barn the theater resides in on rural Route 209 in the quiet town of Bantam. A stop at the concession full of gourmet snacks, coffees and teas is a must. Get some hot organic popcorn with real melted butter, then take your seat in one of two 90-seat cinemas where a group of regulars chat enthusiastically about the upcoming flick. Movies include mainstream hits or foreign or independent films. “Animated films don’t do well here,” says longtime theater manager Doug Richardson. When current owners Sidney Koch, his son David Koch and Elizabeth Merz choose films, they always keep their audience’s eclectic tastes in mind. “Customers also request films. If they’re a good fit, we’ll try to get them,” says Richardson. “But obscure films can be hard to acquire. There’s a food chain with indies—New York and L.A. go first,” he says. For instance, they waited months for a copy of Into Great Silence, and David Mamet’s The Winslow Boy had to be flown in from the U.K.
Bantam’s “Meet the Filmmaker” series invites movie directors, actors and producers in to discuss their films with the audience after a screening. Arthur MIller, William Styron, Mia Farrow, Liza Minnelli and Dana Perry, director of the HBO documentary Boy Interrupted, have all participated. And the cinema launched its first web forum for director Rebecca Miller after The Private Lives of Pippa Lee was completed. When Miller couldn’t make it to the theater after business required her to travel to Europe, the audience and Miller carried on a conversation online.
Art is also always on view here. Currently up: Elizabeth McDonald’s exhibit Fragments, which explores the landscape through a matrix of irregular tiles on a grid, and Robert Gregson’s Outrigger Series of painted birch and aluminum sculpture. Gregson invites the viewer to alter the work through movable elements in his interactive installation. “My work tends to be a social activity," he says. "It exists in the ambiguous territory between artist and audience. The pieces are invitations that provide permission to be involved. For me, the act of creation is a balancing act between autonomy and connectedness. Like a performance, I enjoy the idea that the work is never actually completed but continually reinterpreted and refreshed through those who encounter it."
Two movie buffs hosted their wedding here (the cinema is available for rental), which began with a short film about how the duo met. Now that’s love. “We sell out on weekends,” Richardson says. “Some of the regulars drive an hour just to get here.”
Currently showing: Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan and the Coen brothers’ True Grit. For further information call (860) 567-1916 or visit bantamcinema.com.