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Forming a society of film buffs

If you live in the Groton area and want to see a movie, your closest options are the cinemas in Lowell or Nashua - about a 25-minute drive away.

Scott Stathis and six other local residents are hoping to change that this fall by creating a film society that will show flicks at a local venue on a 10-foot screen every month. But instead of introducing the customary film fare and buck-raking blockbusters that dominate the screens of mainstream commercial theaters these days, the group wants to create a scene that's a little more avant-garde, airing independent films not normally touted at most multiplexes.

If enough members join the society and help attract money to the cause, the hope is to build or convert a building into a local arts film theater, perhaps in the town center, the group says.

The timing is right for Groton to imbibe such new cultural currents, Stathis said, as town officials weigh new zoning to promote new business and retail life in the downtown area along Station Avenue. The new business could serve to attract patrons to a local venue, such as an arts theater, and vice versa, he said, adding the town is home to a cadre of people who might be drawn to the often thought-pro voking, meditative style of independent films.

"If we could pull it off, I think it might be very unique," he said. "The timing is right for the town to come into its own for becoming a little mecca for this type of stuff."

Jeff Ritter, the town's interim administrative officer, said he has been working with Stathis's group to find a locale for the film society and its screenings. Though the location remains up in the air, Ritter said he was confident that the society would be able to use one of the town's public spaces.

The film society should inject some spice into the town's cultural life, he said. "We're doing whatever we can to get them off the ground."

Kate Pike, a member of the committee and an avid fan of independent films, said art houses and cinemas that emphasize such films are on the decline because of limited audiences and remain a risky proposition for entrepreneurs. A few theaters in the region regularly play independent films, the closest ones being Lexington Flick and the Maynard Fine Arts Theater. But these venues are more than a 30-minute drive from Groton.

If the society does create a local arts theater, chances are it will be a nonprofit, given the market these days, Stathis said. Costs could vary, he said, but such a venture could run about $1 million.

Pike, however, said she's optimistic about the prospects for an independent film movement taking root locally.

"I think we have an audience built in here that doesn't just want to see your average summer blockbuster movie."

The committee, which formed in January, will have a booth at Grotonfest this Saturday in an effort to build financial momentum for the society. Stathis said the goal is to recruit 100 members this fall, each of whom will pay $100 to join the society, officially being dubbed the Groton Film Society.

Discounts are doled out for couples applying for a membership - $150 per couple - and two-year memberships, which go for $175. But Stathis said the group may modify the rate structure to allow people to buy a certain number of movie events a year in advance, if they don't think they will be able to attend every monthly showing.

The initial memberships should cover the start-up costs of the effort, which are expected to run about $8,000, Stathis said. Those initial expenses would include a 10-foot viewing screen, a movie projector, a sound system, and legal and insurance costs, he said.

If all goes well, the group should air the first film on its list for the year, "The World's Fastest Indian," about a New Zealander's pursuit of the motorcycle speed record, sometime next month, Stathis said. The committee is meeting with town officials and private entities in town to see where they can hold the monthly showings, he said.

Other films on the group's lineup include "Searching for Bobby Fischer," about a teenage chess prodigy; "Akeelah and the Bee," about a young girl who tries to make it to the National Spelling Bee; and "Miss Potter," a film about author Beatrix Potter.

Pike said the goal of the committee was to find films that are critically acclaimed but also a bit obscure.

The showings, Stathis said, also might feature film critics, film industry insiders, screenplay writers, or actors who live in the area who might volunteer talks on independent films, adding an educational component to the society.

With such added features and more than 100,000 potential viewers in Groton and neighboring towns, the society could prove a popular draw, Stathis said.

But, he said, "it all depends on critical mass."

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