As Waterville’s famous festival prepares to open, it shines a spotlight on one of its founders

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Alan Sanborn, shown Saturday at the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Maine International Film Festival, which begins a 10-day run this weekend. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Watchman

WATERVILLE — Throughout his life, Alan Sanborn was drawn to movies. A devotion to celluloid led him to help establish the Maine International Film Festival a quarter of a century ago as well as the Railroad Square Cinema, where he has worked for over 40 years.

Most people probably don’t realize the time, effort and hard work he put into ensuring that central Maine has access to an independent theater.

All of this effort, over the decades, led to the festival bestowing Sanborn with its Lifetime Achievement Award. And yet, when asked about receiving the award, Sanborn says he doesn’t want to take too much credit for himself.

“I’m really flattered and feel like I’m accepting this award for so many people who have worked on this theater over the years, and especially the other four founders of the cinema,” he said. declared.

Sanborn, 76, will be honored at the 25th film festival, which opens on Friday July 8 and runs until July 17. An institution of Maine’s film community, the festival will showcase nearly 100 films and attract thousands of people.

Alan Sanborn remembers the 25th anniversary of the Maine International Film Festival on Saturday. He stands in a hallway at the Railroad Square cinema in Waterville. Sanborn will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the festival, which begins a 10-day run this weekend. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Watchman

This will be the last year of the festival at Railroad Square. The Paul J. Schupf Center for the Arts will open late this year downtown on Main Street and will include several movie theaters.

“It’s exciting and it’s bittersweet,” said Mike Perreault, general manager of the festival. “We want to make this a true community celebration of where it all began at Railroad Square.”

And if that wasn’t enough for the end of an era, Sanborn said he plans to retire when the festival moves to the art center. He said he tasted retirement when the Railroad Square Cinema closed for 15 months at the start of the pandemic.

“When we settle down there, it’s such a perfect break because everything will be different there,” Sanborn said. “So I will retire, but I will probably volunteer, probably with the film festival, and watch movies. It’s one of my retirement conditions – that (his wife) Sam and I get a lifetime pass.

Sanborn was one of five founders of Railroad Square Cinema who came together nearly 50 years ago looking for a place to watch movies. Some may wonder why Waterville has an independent cinema and not Portland or Bangor, but Sanborn said he had to be here because that’s where the founders were.

Alan Sanborn is setting up a film that will be shown digitally on the screen in a theater at the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville on Saturday. Sanborn will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Maine International Film Festival. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Watchman

They didn’t have big goals at the time, Sanborn said, it was more of a selfish business.

But even if the founders weren’t looking for a community, they certainly found one. As director of the cinema, Sanborn does all the work behind the scenes, making sure everything stays on track – from running the projectors to checking the lights and selling tickets and concessions.

Although he is not often in the foreground, returning visitors to the cinema and the festival are familiar with Sanborn and his friendly mood. Ken Eisen, another founder, said Sanborn is great and reliable and the movie theater would never have opened without him. Eisen said he was happy that Sanborn, in receiving his award, was finally getting public recognition for his contributions.

“He definitely deserves it,” Eisen said. “There would be no theater without him and he’s just been a rock this whole time.”

During the festival, Sanborn said he usually fails to watch many films. When in the audience, he wonders if the festival operations are going as planned.

“Really, it’s not that I don’t have time, it’s that I’m too freaked out,” Sanborn said. “I’m going to sit in the theater and say, ‘God, I hope Cinema 2 has started. I wonder if they remember doing (this or that).

Alan Sanborn sits in one of the theaters at the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville on Saturday. Sanborn is one of the founders of cinema and the Maine International Film Festival and will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the festival for his contributions over the years. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Watchman

Sanborn considered studying film in college, but ended up focusing on zoology and then photography. It’s hard to call those detours mistakes when he met his wife Sam while working at a photo lab in Boston.

He grew up in Saco and as a young man was eager to leave Maine. But as soon as he moved to Boston, he just wanted to come back, so after a few years he moved to Canaan.

Cinema and the film festival have always been a family affair for the Sanborns. Sam Sanborn worked as an office manager for many years before retiring four years ago, although she still helps on occasion. When their three daughters were younger, Alan Sanborn recalled the nights the couple worked and the girls slept in the projector room.

As Perreault explained, “He has been such a positive light for all of us on staff and he has made so many friends in the community, and we couldn’t think of a better person to honor this year. than Alan.

“He raised his whole family running this place, and they’ve largely continued to carry that legacy forward as well. So now was the right time to do it.


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