DOVER-FOXCROFT – Every time Jim Annis steps under the bright marquee and into the lobby of Center Theatre, it’s like greeting an old familiar friend.
It was where Annis, as a teenager, snuggled up to his dates in a back row far from the bright lights that beamed down onto the movie screen from a noisy projector on the balcony. “It was special,” the local legislator recalled on Tuesday.
The theater closed its doors in 1973 but since has been resurrected by a group of local people, among them Annis, 68, and his wife, Jane, who celebrated their 45th anniversary in July by tacking up insulation on an unfinished wall in the building.
Annis, a Republican state representative from Dover-Foxcroft, claimed his only real role in the project was his signature on legislation that provided $500,000 in state funds to save the building.
Aside from a couple of small businesses that operated from its lobby, the theater remained vacant until the late 1990s. After the historic Blethen House was demolished to pave the way for a Rite-Aid store, a group of local residents rallied to save the theater building from a similar fate.
“The Blethen House kind of galvanized them into action,” Patrick Myers, Center Theatre’s executive director, said on Tuesday.
The group, representing a cross-section of the community, raised about $1.5 million over the years for the purchase of the building and its renovation into a performing arts center, most of which has been completed. Some lobby work, along with finishing touches in the dressing rooms behind the stage, are about all the work that remains.
While the theater has held sold-out concerts and special performances over the past two years, this weekend will feature the first movie shown since 1973. Pending the purchase of a new movie projector and light and sound system, the movie, “Southbounders,” a fictional journey that unfolds along the Appalachian Trail, will be shown via DVD, according to Myers.
The filmmaker of “Southbounders,” Ben Wagner of Los Angeles, has donated the rights to the film, a portion of which was filmed in Piscataquis County, so Center Theatre can use the screening as a fundraising event.
The movie starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $3.50.
Hearkening back to his teenage days at the theatre, Myers said he had a mind to walk down the aisles carrying a flashlight during the movie to make sure patrons are behaving. A native of the area, Myers toured the country after college but felt the quality of life was best in the Penquis region, so he returned home.
Myers, 33, fits easily in his role, just as the theater serves Maine’s creative economy. Just recently, Gov. John Baldacci gave the theatre group $34,000 from the Municipal Trust Fund for the purchase of an air conditioner for the building. About $80,000 more is needed to complete the renovation and for the purchase of other needed equipment.
“My personal goal is to get the fundraising completed this year, and I really believe that’s possible,” Myers said.
As for the theater, its goal is to strengthen the community in general, and its supporters say it is doing just that by bringing in large crowds of people to its performances.
And with gasoline prices so high, Myers said bringing back movies to the theater has been encouraged by supporters. Others movies are planned for showing, he said.
For Annis, the movie offering will be a walk down memory lane.
“Even after all these years, I’ll kind of edge up back,” he said.
More information about the theatre and its performances can be found at www.CenterTheatre.org or call 564-8943.