BELFAST, Maine — Belfast’s landmark Colonial Theatre has been showing movies to Mainers since April 10, 1912, the same day the Titanic set sail.
For more than a century, the lights had gone out on its High Street marquee only once — in February 1923, when the theater burned down after a showing of “Way Down East” with Lillian Gish.
Once, that is, until the pandemic, which caused the three-screen, locally-owned movie theater to close its doors to the public in mid-March 2020. After a 15-month pause, the theater will reopen on Friday, June 18, with showings of “Nomadland,” “A Quiet Place 2,” “Godzilla vs. Kong” and kids’ movie “Raya and the Last Dragon” on the schedule.
“We’re really excited about it,” Mike Hurley, the longtime co-owner of the Colonial, said Tuesday. “A movie theater is a communal experience, a shared experience. People come to the movies to be with others and to share a story.”
While the art deco theater looks the same from the outside, with its life-size fiberglass elephant, “Hawthorne,” still trumpeting from the roof, patrons will notice some changes within. Hurley and his wife, Therese Bagnardi, have increased its ventilation significantly, and have added some new technology, such as touchless faucets in the restrooms. The staff will be wearing masks, and patrons must, too, until they are seated.
“It seems like it’s evolving every day,” Hurley said.
There will be a new face at the front of the house, too — Belfast native Kyle Walton, who has been hired as the operations manager. Walton, 36, who worked at the Colonial when he was in high school and again for a stint in his 20s, has a background in film, new media production, digital news and public relations.
“I’m just excited to be here,” he said. “This has been at the intersection of my interests and my career. I want to be the person who helps the theater through this post-pandemic reality. It uses skills I’ve been working on my whole life.”
The theater did stream movies online during the pandemic, but Hurley credits federal and state aid and grants with helping the theater remain afloat during the 15 months the doors were closed.
“Without those things, I have no idea what would have happened,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been good.”
The theater is still for sale, as it has been since 2015. But until a buyer comes along, Hurley is looking forward to going to the movies again. He hopes lots of other folks are, too.
“What I love about the movies is that people come to the movies to relax and be taken away,” he said. “We all want to hear about a hero, or a great love, or a tragedy, or a terrible crime. It’s storytelling.”
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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated which movies be shown at the theater’s opening weekend.