Save Our Theater: West Newton Cinema’s Impact


by Laura Feng, Anya Kopinja & Ira Singh, Features Reporters; Ava Ransbotham, Features Editor

photo by Ava Ransbotham

Tucked between two ever-changing shops on Washington Street, the West Newton Cinema’s (WNC) fading facade and charming marquee sign have remained a constant since its construction in 1937. 

Due to declining sales in recent years, the theater, which had been a family-owned business since 1978, was sold to the company Mark Development in August of 2022. 

However, Mark Development allowed the West Newton Cinema Foundation to be formed, a non-profit with the intent to buy the theater back. Their goal is to raise $9.9 million by Aug. 31, 2024, relying on members of the Newton community to recognize the theater’s importance to their town.

Julius Starkman has been going to the WNC since he was eight. He said what has kept him coming back for over 50 years can’t be found at a chain theater.

“[The theater] is very convenient, very local,” he said. “It’s not a big theater, so there’s a connectivity between yourself and the people who are serving you.”

Newton-based independent filmmaker Sanja Zdjelar said that local theaters are essential to the careers of filmmakers like herself. Her 2019 film “The Immigrant” was shown at the WNC.

“I rented a space and decided to make my own little premiere,” she said. “I don’t think you can do something like that in a multiplex theater, so independent theaters give that opportunity and it just works beautifully for filmmakers.”

As an independent theater, the WNC is able to connect more personally with the local community. Film studies teacher David Weintraub said the WNC donated prizes for South’s Film Festival and supported the official premiere of a group’s crime drama.

“I’ve always felt very indebted to the cinema for extending that generosity,” he said. “That also shows the connection between the business and the community and the varying ways that we can support each other.”

Zdjelar said now is the time to reciprocate that support.

“I really, really hope that West Newton Cinema is able to fully bounce back because we need to keep our community vibrant, healthy and strong,” she said. “It would be a huge loss if we lost something like that.”

If the theater closes, fewer local movies will get spotlighted and events like the Jewish Film Festival will lose a host. Weintraub said its closure will feel personal.

“I’m going to see that shuttered building and I’m going to be sad about it, and I’m sure a lot of people will feel the same,” he said. “It will have a trickle down effect on the business community and the community as a whole if it closes.”

North sophomore Lauren Cao lives near the theater and said she has many important memories of friends and family there, and she would be devastated if it were to close.

“It’s such a staple,” she said. “When you hear West Newton Cinema, everyone knows what it is, and the fact that it can potentially just go away is sad.”

Lynne Pepall, a member of the foundation’s steering committee, said she hopes making the cinema a non-profit will galvanize support within the community.

“If it belongs to the community, then I think there’s a bigger vision for what it can do,” she said. “It’d be more something where people could take pride that this is who we are in Newton, and this is what we believe in.”

Pepall said that the committee’s vision for the WNC is a cultural hub, not just a theater, but they can’t reach their goals alone.

“Frankly, we need some buzz,” she said, ”Getting younger people engaged in this is really good; It makes you think of nothing else but what it means to live in a community.”

Along with donating to their foundation, Zjdelar said the best contribution you can offer is to keep creating the memories that make WNC special.

“Keep supporting them. Keep telling friends,” she said. “It’s such an icon; there’s such history behind it.”

The history, charm and, above all, the community are what set WNC apart. Weintraub said the cinema experience is something that can never be replaced.

“They hand me some popcorn, I hand them some money,” he said. “It’s this beautiful way to be human together.”

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