Feature writing: Small community in Maine boasts unique film society

Another feature story in the UPI/wire service style. Maine was an absolute treasure trove of offbeat stories…


MOUNT VERNON, Maine (UPI) – The Strange Fellows Film Society, consisting of two seventh graders and a 31-year-old scrap metal worker, hangs up a makeshift screen every other Friday and brings the likes of Marlon Brando and W.C. Fields to the Mount Vernon Schoolhouse.

The film society was born around Christmastime, when the scrap metal worker, Joe McLaren, decided that good movies would be way to beat the winter doldrums in Mount Vernon, which consists of a general store, a small hardware store and about 400 people.

“Besides, there have only been about four movies worth seeing around here this year,” McLaren said. There are movie theaters in Augusta, Farmington and Waterville, but all are about 20 miles away.

Mount Vernon offered a unique facility for movies, as well, a fine old Odd Fellows Hall, complete with ticket window. McLaren made tentative arrangements to rent the hall, and then went to see about securing the films.

“We had some trouble,” McLaren said. “We found we could get the films if we were a film society and didn’t make a profit. That was okay with us, and now we accept donations, enough to cover the cost of the films. Actually, so far, I’ve lost money every week.”

The worst part after McLaren got the films: the Odd Fellows decided not to rent the hall because of insurance restrictions.

“It would have been great at the hall,” McLaren said. “But this really hasn’t worked out bad. Mr. Gordon, the principal, has been helpful and so has everyone else.”

McLaren’s partners are John Jones, 12, and Mark Kelley, 13, students at Mount Vernon School. Mark’s sister, Dale, made the movie screen out of artist’s canvas, and both Mark and John help McLaren set up the screen and projector.

The first movie was “Requiem for a Heavyweight” with Anthony Quinn, and the showing was something less than a raving success.

“It was a real cold night and the school had shut off the heat,” McLaren said. “We had about 50 people here and it was about 45 degrees in the room. A lot of people left early.”

So far, the Strange Fellows Film Society has managed to solve its problems and bring good films to Mount Vernon. McLaren feels that if the venture succeeds through the winter, The going will be easier in summertime when the summer residents come back to town.

“We’re having ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ with Marlon Brando next Friday,” he said. “If you come, you better bring your overcoat.”