A funny thing happened on the way to the movies Sunday night in Westport.
In a program best described as a holiday potpourri, the Westport Cinema Initiative -- a group striving to bring a movie theater back downtown -- organized a program that ranged from comic clerics to a classic Christmas movie to Chinese takeout. The event took place in Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church's hall.
"Christmas in Connecticut," a 1945 comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck, was the featured fare on the silver screen, the latest of the cinema initiatives's bimonthly screenings since March 2010, said WCI Director Sandy Lefkowitz, "to build awareness about our initiative to bring a movie theater back to Westport.
"We've now signed a lease on Main Street for the parking lot space adjacent to Tavern on Main," she said. "The property is owned by the Phillip Teuscher Family. The building to be established will honor Phillip's mom, the late Marjorie Thorncroft Teuscher, who was very supportive of the arts in Westport. Her sons have continued that tradition."
If the group can raise the needed money, Lefkowitz said the theater will feature three screens, state-of-the-art equipment and have a seating capacity of up to 125. The range of films will include first-run independents, documentaries, 3-D animation and classic films. "We will also feature on a regular basis original films created by local filmmakers and offer an educational component around several screenings each month, with producers and writers as moderators and discussion panelists," she added.
Lefkowitz also the WCI hopes to offer a program to children Saturday mornings, and for teens that is compatible with high school curriculums.
With regard to the group's fundraising goal, Lefkowitz said, "We have begun campaigning for a $4 million target, which includes a two-year operating budget. We are prepared to go before Planning and Zoning with our architectural and theater design plans within the next six months, by which time we are looking to have raised $2 million."
She cautioned, though, "If the community wants this to happen, they must show their support with their financial commitment to our campaign. Hopefully, we'll do our first community fundraising in the spring."
Sunday's screening of "Christmas in Connecticut" was preceded by amusing holiday tales shared by Rabbi Robert Orkand from Temple Israel and the Rev. Edward Horne of the United Methodist Church. Attendees could also fill out "take-in" orders of Chinese food to enjoy during the program.
Why Chinese food? Lefkowitz explained, "Typically, the only places open Christmas Eve are Chinese restaurants, and Jews would often go out to eat at them that night. The tie-in seemed appropriate."
WCI board member Larry Perlstein, who handles technology for the group, said there appears to be a lot of support for bringing a moviehouse back to Westport. With fondness, he recalled going to the movies in Westport from the 1970s to '90s, when there were four theaters operating downtown. "I remember going to see `Jaws' open in 1975 at Fine Arts I," he said. "People were lined up around the block. Having that access meant a lot to teens -- seeing a film, having pizza, going to the library. It was safe and convenient, and a big part of the downtown experience."
For more information about the Westport Cinema Initiative, email Sandy Lefkowitz: firstname.lastname@example.org.