Many movie theaters nowadays lack character, but not Old Town’s “Black Bear Cinemas.” Most University of Maine students know Black Bear Cinemas for their “UMaine Wednesdays,” where students can get free admission to any movie upon a quick flash of their Maine Card, but behind the theater’s doors, there is much more passion, drive and intention put into their daily operations.
The cinema houses six theaters, showing both newly released films and movies that feel like a blast from the past. Previously named “Spotlight Cinemas,” Zachary Hussey and Charles Moody bought the theater this past summer. The change of ownership resulted in the theater we now know as “Black Bear Cinemas.”
The owners’ goal for the theater can be summed up in one hyphenated word: community-based. This goal, or better yet, intention, is reflected in the theater’s name.
“We want everyone to know that we’re a local, community theater, not a chain,” explained Hussey, adding that naming it “Black Bear Theater” was an obvious choice.
The owners’ friendship has lasted through childhood. Both born and raised in Old Town, Moody and Hussey have been frequent customers of the cinema since they were kids.
Hussey remembers going to midnight premieres at the theater in high school. “The line would be out the door and behind the building. Everyone from our high school would be there. It was a huge event.” said Hussey.
Hussey has other midnight premiere memories from his time working for the then Spotlight Cinemas” while he studied nursing at UMaine. At the time, he knew he wanted to own his own theater someday, so he decided to learn the ropes. Since then, he and Moody have been working as full-time nurses, saving money to buy their own theater one day.
Their lifelong passion for the theater is evident in the way it is run. Decorated entryways, art contests, raffles, and more characterize this new and evolving cinema.
Hussey and Moody want the movie-goers’ experience at “Black Bear Cinemas” to be specialized. “I feel like a lot of movie theaters are chain-like. You go in, they’re generic, it’s all the same. But movies are an art form. They’re artistic, and so should [be] the theater,” explained Hussey.
This past summer, for the premiere of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” the theater took this philosophy to the next level by painting the entrance pink. Hussey explained that a week before the premiere, they decided to paint the entrance themselves for hours. “We wanted to put a personal aspect to the experience,” said Hussey.
Following “Barbie,” they painted the entrance green for “Ninja Turtles” and, more recently, purple for “Wonka.”
“I keep saying it’s going to be the last time we paint it. I think that is true now,” said Hussey.
They have other plans for the theater’s entrance revolving around local artwork. The premise is simple: They host art contests based on new movies, pick a winner, buy their artwork and display it at the entrance with the artist’s name and contact information.
“Local artists are so talented, and we want to help them get their work out there,” said Hussey. Their goal is to do four art contests a year, continuing to fill up the entrance wall with more local art year by year.
The owner’s passion for their community-based theater does not end with painted walls and art contests. They’re bringing back large franchises to mobilize and unite the movie’s fandoms in the Orono/Bangor area. They started with “Harry Potter” in the fall, showing all eight movies, and they’ve now moved on to “The Lord of the Rings.”
They are showing the extended versions of “Lord of the Rings,” and they’ve built a hobbit door through which movie-goers can enter the theater. On top of that, with the help of the theater’s general manager, Nathan Paris, they’ve collected goodies from the studios to raffle off to the real-devoted fans.
For “Harry Potter,” if you had gone to see all eight movies and saved your ticket stubs, you were entered into a raffle to win a Harry Potter suitcase filled with various Harry
Potter memorabilia. For “The Lord of The Rings,” they plan to raffle off a wooden Lord of the Rings clock. It’s too late to win these raffles, but the owners plan to continue this new-found tradition.
This is not where the owner’s passions or goals for the theater end. They want to continue adding to the space so it feels unique and artistic for movie-goers and uplifts their movie-loving community members.
“Community is one of the biggest reasons we bought the theater. We feel that a theater that is not involved and giving back to the community just isn’t how it should be,” said Hussey.
You can find which films the theater is showing and when on their website: blackbearcinemas.com.