By Judy Wakefield
---- — Andover may not have a movie theater, but that doesn’t mean you can’t catch a movie in town.
Every month, movies are rolling in some unexpected places — the senior center, the college at the town line and even at the local churches.
Faith Lutheran Church is the latest to get into show business — showing movies that is.
The South Main Street church launched the monthly series in January thanks to the efforts of Alan Thoday of Andover, who made his living in special effects for movies, theme parks and museums.
Thoday, who lives on Mayflower Drive, was part owner of a long fibre modacrylic fabric company in Lawrence. His company provided special effects needs for numerous Hollywood characters, including King Kong and the Muppets.
His company was eventually sold to a branch of Disney, but he keeps in touch with two pals from the old days, David Janzow and Dick Wells, owners of a special effects company in Hollywood called Shafton, Inc.
The pair share Thoday’s attraction with classic movies and regularly send them his way to enjoy.
Now, Thoday is sharing them with the community by organizing a free monthly movie night at Faith Lutheran that is open to the public.
The inaugural screening of “The Heiress,” the 1949 Academy Award winner starring Olivia De Havilland and Montgomery Clift, brought an audience of more than 20 viewers to watch it on the church’s 72-inch screen.
“We think there is a lot of interest for this ... members have expressed an interest in seeing classic movies and getting to know each other through this medium,” said Roland Jacobson of Andover, another church member who is helping to organize the movie club.
Thoday said Andover at one time boasted its own movie houses. Take a closer look at the entrance to retail stores at 7 Elm St. It once was home to Wonderland theater and its column entrance can barely be seen if you look just right between the hair salon and nail shop.
Wonderland closed years ago while another movie theater in town, the Colonial, was gone by 1937, according to old issues of the Andover Townsman. It was located where the Memorial Hall Library parking lot is today.
Thoday longs for those nostalgic days.
“Yes, I wish Andover had a movie theater ... a lot of people do,” he said.
But movie clubs like the one at Faith Lutheran may be the next best thing, he said.
Faith Lutheran’s next movie night is planned for Friday, Feb. 21, at 6:30 p.m. It will feature “Witness to the Prosecution,” the 1957 Agatha Christie tale directed by Billy Wilder and starring Marlene Dietrich.
The church is by no means the only local venue turning movie theater-for-a-night. The Rogers Center at Merrimack College in North Andover has a Wednesday night film series, Memorial Hall Library has a Monday night series, the Center at Punchard shows movies twice a week and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Locke Street sponsors monthly movies. Most are free or have nominal admission fees.
Karen Payne-Taylor, program coordinator at The Center at Punchard, said organizers of its BommerVenture Screening Room scour various websites and publications for the latest Independent and award-winning films that are not screened locally to offer viewers a unique line-up of movies. The center also presents the Academy Award-winning films as soon as they are released.
“It’s lots of fun to have the opportunity to show those films that many of us would like to see — but are not able to drive to Boston or Cambridge to catch,” she said. “We do have a loyal band who enjoy meeting together to watch and discuss the films, and some lively discussion ensues. Almost every week we attract a new person.
Volunteers Lois Karfunkel and Phoebe Kwass keep the series going. They are involved with choosing the films and getting the word out, Payne-Taylor said.
“They are both passionate about film and its social and entertainment value. We’ve tackled a number of ‘challenging’ films as well as many that give us sheer joy,” she said. “The BoomerVenture Screening room helps keep the little-known gems from slipping past us, without the chance to know they exist.”
Recently, the center screened “Herb and Dorothy,” a documentary about two “ordinary” people who spent a lifetime accumulating a multi-million-dollar art collection. The screening coincided with a major gift the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection recently made to Bowdoin College Museum in Maine that consisted of 320 works of contemporary art by nearly 70 artists.
“We were happy to be on the leading edge of introducing our constituents to that amazing couple and their contribution to a local institution,” Payne-Taylor said.
Thoday said having inexpensive options to see a classic or award-winning film nearby is appealing for singles, couples and families — in other words, everyone. And, he is thrilled that his church, where he serves as facilities coordinator, is now on the movie bandwagon.
“We hope to have classic movies, movies for kids ... have popcorn and maybe pizza and the idea is going over well. It seems people are looking for something to do on a winter night and they want to meet others,” he said. “This is a great way to do that.”
WHERE THE MOVIES ARE
The Center at Punchard’s BoomerVenture Screening Room: Thursdays, 7 p.m.; “The Other Son,” Feb. 27. Movies also shown Mondays, 1 p.m.; 30 Whittier Court, Andover.
Memorial Hall Library: Monthly Monday Movie Night, Feb. 24, March 31, April 28, 7 p.m.; 2 North Main St., Andover.
Faith Lutheran Church: Friday, Feb. 21, 6:30 p.m., “Witness to the Prosecution;” 360 South Main St. (Route 28), Andover.
Unitarian Universalist Church: Fourth Friday of the month, September through May, 7 p.m.; 60 Locke St.
Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College: One Wednesday a month, 7 p.m.: “Great Expectations,” Feb. 26; “The Strong Man,” March 26; “Moby Dick,” April 30; “Les Miserables,” May 14; 315 Turnpike St., North Andover.