The Coolidge Corner Theatre has quickly grown to become a staple in the Brookline neighborhood—offering moviegoers, art fans, and independent film enthusiasts a chance to experience its rich history. But if not for the vision of local film fanatics and regular customers more than 20 years ago, the theatere that opened in 1933 would likely have been transformed into a group of boutique stores.
“The theatre was a single screen grand art deco movie house with a balcony and ushers showing you to your seats,” said Beth Gilligan, the director of Development and Marketing at the theatre. “It offered a coat room and free coffee and cake in the mezzanine during intermission—it was a full scale grand movie palace.”
In 1988, plans were put in place to demolish the beloved theatre and replace it with retail space, but local customers were outraged about the possibility of losing a local theatre with such a historic charm. “The community really rallied because they thought this is an amazing historic building and it’s such a community gathering place, so they literally circled the building at one point,” Gilligan said. “They just did a group hug to prevent it from being bulldozed.” In 1989 it was announced that the theatre would be saved, and operated as a nonprofit organization.
Today, the theatre is a landmark in Coolidge Corner, attracting audiences from across the city. According to Gilligan, the theatere is working to provide programs that will appeal to the college demographic. “The ‘After Midnite’ series we offer in particular is very popular with the student crowd,” she said. The series plays classic cult films in the middle of the night on Fridays and Saturdays. The movies are often thrillers and horror movies, being so late at night the program is not for the faint of heart.
Gilligan explained that there are currently a number of films from a wide scale of genres that tailor to a younger audience. The Hunting Ground is a film about sexual assault on college campuses, the cover-ups and the repercussions that go with it. There will be discussions about the film which students are welcome to attend and share their opinions, and tickets are discounted to 5 dollars with a current student ID. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a compelling documentary about those who founded the women’s movement in the ’60s and ’70s. The “Big Screen Classics” series shows old Hollywood movies perfectly suited for film aficionados. The next film that will be shown in this series is Blade Runner. For lighter fare, What We Do in the Shadows, a comedy about vampires trying to survive in present culture, offers comedic relief.
Another popular program at the theatre is the “Science on Screen” series, where experts in scientific fields give a lecture prior to a showing of a film. For instance, the theatere hosted an expert on the physics of time travel and then showed Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The program began nearly 10 years ago and the Coolidge Corner Theatre has received grants to expand it to other art-house cinemas. The theatre has distributed over $70,000 to nearly 40 theatres nationwide for the program.
Aside from student involvement, Gilligan explained that the theatre is incorporating a number of projects designed to include various groups across the local community in Brighton. “We do a series for new moms and babies called ‘Box Office Babies’ where you can bring your babies just in the stroller and you come watch a movie and get out of the house,” she said. “We also do a series for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other memory loss, and they come with their caregivers and there’s a facilitated discussion and clips from classic films.”
Looking to add to its creative experience, the theatere’s programs also include an element of participation. Two weeks ago, the Coolidge Corner Theatre hosted the screenwriter from Maps to the Stars, a new film with Julianne Moore. The theatere also staged a series of panel discussions, which allowed individuals, whether or not they are interested in film as a viable career option, to be involved in a conversation about what they see on screen.
“It’s great to have young faces in here, I think it adds to the dialogues we have,” Gilligan said.
Featured Images Courtesy Of Coolidge Corner Theatre