Step Into Its Story
By Clementina Verge
Escaping through a creative portal into another place and time: that’s the magic of movies, playing once more at Bantam Cinema, a historic landmark evolving as a creative sanctuary, educational institution, and community cornerstone.
“Step into our story” is the motto of Connecticut’s longest-operating movie theater, and what a story it is.
In its nearly 100-year existence, Bantam Cinema faced unexpected turmoils: the Great Depression, World War II, a ravaging 1989 tornado; most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic threatened the traditional movie-going experience, nearly forcing the theater into closure.
In the nick of time, a group of passionate individuals led a grassroots effort to acquire the property and established the nonprofit Bantam Cinema & Arts Center.
“Our mission is to preserve and operate the historic cinema while enhancing the cultural vitality of the Litchfield Hills by offering diverse programming that inspires and engages audiences,” explains executive director Robert Kwalick. “It is a place to not just meet together to laugh or chat over a movie, but to celebrate the creative presence of people who can talk about the craft.”
Judy Auchincloss, who serves on the BCAC Board of Directors, similarly acknowledges the region’s many performers, writers, and directors.
“We have such a creative community boasting a wealth of talent and happy to give of its time, so it is exciting to ponder all that we can become,” Auchincloss reflects.
Externally, except for fresh paint, the cinema looks as it did in 1929 when the first silent film played in the once-red barn. Memories of past decades echo in the charming entryway where concessions include favorites like Juju and Sno-Caps candy, popcorn with real butter, and even wine and beer. Updates include two cozy auditoriums, modern digital projectors and sound systems, and open-captions for ESL and hearing-impaired patrons.
Behind the scenes, something even greater unraveled: as a nonprofit, programming possibilities now abound, including student film festivals, classes, poetry readings, private events, and Q&As with industry insiders. While continuing to screen high-quality independent and mainstream films, BCAC will also present family-friendly opportunities to ignite passion for arts in the younger generations.
Board member Ethan Antonucci, who grew up across the street from the theater and remembers the excitement of waiting for the latest reel canisters to be delivered, finds this especially important.
“Nothing was more spectacular and it definitely impacted my life; it is a straight line to where I am now, 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles,” shares Antonucci, whose two decades of Hollywood accomplishments include writing for “Game of Thrones.” “We want other children to have the same opportunities. This gem of a theater should be preserved infinitely.”
Despite convenience and sophistication, home theaters and streaming services delivering on-demand entertainment cannot substitute real-life audiences.
“Going to the movies is good for the human spirit,” Antonucci reflects. “Theaters are one of the last places where humans are not tethered to devices, but can immerse themselves in something special, step into a story, into an experience, into a tradition in humanity. It is about sharing and remembering stories so that they live on.” —bantamcinema.org