The Bethel Cinema's success is like a classic underdog tale from...well...a movie.
The small four screen theater has survived the age of multiplex cinemas and general declining movie ticket sales by featuring films where story counts more than special effects and characters mean more than explosions.
“We try to get a good mix of foreign movies, documentary movies and independent films,” said Brian Morrison, 41, who has managed the theater for the past six years.
Morrison said the reasons the theater has always featured a more offbeat selection of films are twofold.
“Part of it is its size," he said. "If we had 18 screens I suppose it would at least be a thought to add one or two (blockbuster) movies from time to time, but it is also a statement that there are plenty of really good movies that are made every year that are just good stories with good characters and good actors playing them.”
The theater opened in 1992. At the time the theater only had two screens. The first two films shown were “Howard's End” which stars Anthony Hopkins and “Damage” which was adapted from a novel by Josephine Hart. Over time one of the theaters was split into two and the Cinema also bought adjoining space next to the theater and ultimately expanded to four screens.
In 1995 the Cinema got the support of Connecticut celebrity Mia Farrow who hosted a screening of her film “Reckless” at the theater. Morrison said Farrow's appearance helped put the place in the limelight.
“She just thought she needed to promote the film herself and that, I think helped quite a bit,” he said.
Today, the business is owned by Ken Karlan and Pam Karpen who also own the Spanish tapas restaurant Cadiz, which is connected to the theater.
Unlike many theaters the Bethel Cinema still uses real film, which Morrison said holds its own against digital film.
“35 mm film still looks better than just about anything. It definitely looks better than regular DVDs or even Blu-rays for that matter, it's clearer,” he said.
Bethel Cinema is also known for it's tasty popcorn, which is actually white like real popcorn as opposed to the orange colored popcorn you see at many theaters. Morrison was not shy about sharing the secrets of the theater's popcorn recipe.
“Our secret, if it is a secret, is just keep it really simple and let the customer make it however they want to basically,” he said. “Number one, we pop it fresh every single day and we don't save it from the previous night or anything like that. Number two, it's in no way pre-treated with anything, it's just popped with heat and oil. Primarily (we use) canola oil with a little bit of virgin oil, but it's 90 percent canola oil.”
Morrison added: “We've got salt of course and butter. We do use real butter, we do not use any oil/butter synthesized concoction”
The cinema's successful recipes extend beyond popcorn. Bobbi Jo Beers, executive director of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce said the theater helps bring business into Bethel from surrounding towns.
“Bethel is small enough to feel intimate, yet big enough to show up to 3-4 films at once and keep a variety going for different tastes,” she said. “People tend to be return customers who have found their film niche through Bethel's unique blend of atmosphere and content. People come from surrounding towns for that blend and it extends the probability that they will visit other businesses in town as well as support the local theater.”
Beers added: “There is nothing else like the Bethel theater within the immediate area. It's a real treat.”
The Bethel Cinema is located at 269 Greenwood Avenue. For more information and movie times call 203-778-2100 or visit www.bethelcinema.com