Behind the scenes of three of the Boston area’s historic movie theaters

They’re home to the upcoming Independent Film Festival Boston.

The Independent Film Festival Boston.
The Independent Film Festival Boston. –IFFBoston

In order to enjoy Boston’s upcoming Independent Film Festival, “you don’t have to be a total film person,” said Executive Director Brian Tamm. “Just a person who wants to see great stories.”

The festival, which kicks off its 16th year on Wednesday, celebrates independent films from both local and international filmmakers. This year, Tamm said filmgoers can expect a “mix of big, buzzy stuff, and smaller films, local [documentaries], and both local and visiting filmmakers.” Tamm said IFFB also takes cues from other well-known festivals, like Sundance and River Run, to inspire a full visitor experience that extends beyond just film screenings.


Part of the festival’s goal, he said, is to bring together people from communities surrounding various Boston-area film festivals, such as the Boston Latino International Film Festival and Roxbury International Film Festival.

“We’re really dedicated to creating community around film and to exploring the power of film to create communities,” Tamm said.

Although cities like New York and Los Angeles get a lot attention for their film scenes, Tamm said IFFB is proof that Boston’s film community is thriving.

“There’s so much happening here,” he said. “We’re bringing stories and storytellers to town to share with our community, but also to share our community with those who come. We like showing Boston off.”

According to IFFB Program Director Nancy Campbell, a big part of showing Boston off includes flaunting the historic independent theaters at which the festival screens its featured films.

“We as a city are extremely lucky that these theaters still exist,” Campbell said. “In a lot of other cities, they’ve all been torn down. We have people who come from all over the world to marvel at these theaters.”

Here’s a guide to three historic independent theaters in the Boston area, all partnering with IFFB.


Somerville Theatre

“When we host our programs at the Somerville Theatre, we’re standing on the same stage that [American comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello] stood on,” Campbell said.

The Somerville Theatre was built in 1914 and acted as a premiere destination for traveling vaudeville troupes. Although the interior has been renovated over the years, aspects of the building’s original design have been restored, including the original auditorium’s color scheme and stage size, according to the theater’s website.

Additionally, Tamm said he is impressed with the Somerville Theatre’s commitment to showing 70mm film, a lesser-used film type that produces a crisper image than its more common 35mm counterpart. 70mm film is seeing a small revival among filmmakers, but Tamm said there aren’t many theaters left that possess the equipment necessary to project the film.

One way Tamm said the theater is championing 70mm is by honoring the 50th anniversary of the release of the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” with a special showing of the 70mm print from June 1 to June 14.

Coolidge Corner Theatre

“The Coolidge is this glorious Art Deco jewel,” Tamm said. “There are so few of those left.”

The nonprofit theater was built in 1906 as a church and was remodeled to be a theater in 1933, according to its website. Like many independent theaters, the Coolidge barely survived the VHS-induced moviegoing slump of the 1970s and ’80s and was almost torn down despite community efforts to save it (including when a chain of local residents formed a “hug” around the building). In a cinematic turn of events, the theater was rescued by local Brookline realtor Harold Brown, who purchased the building in 1989.    


While the Coolidge does show mainstream Hollywood movies, Tamm regards the theater for its multifaceted programming, from children’s variety shows to midnight screenings, as well as its focus on arthouse films and a selection of classics.

“When you’re sitting in the Coolidge and watching an old film, you’re sitting in the same theater that people people sat in when that film first came out,” Tamm said. “You feel like you’re part of history.”

The Brattle Theatre

“The Brattle is cozy and intimate, and it feels like a hidden, secret spot,” Tamm said. “It’s served as the unofficial film school in this city for so long. When I went from someone who liked watching movies to someone who was into film, that’s where I did it.”

The tucked-away Harvard Square theater is known for its single rear-projection screen, a rare setup in which the film projector sits behind the screen, rather than behind the audience. The Brattle also has an annual tradition of screening “Casablanca” on Valentine’s Day ever since the film’s first release in 1942.

“When you get to the Brattle,” Tamm said, “you feel a sense of pride that this theater that you go to all the time is part of film history.”


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