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Hollywood star inspires movie nights in rural NS where he used to spend his summers

Anne Crossman said that in order for community halls to survive, they have to come up with new ideas and involve the community. She’s found herself serving popcorn and drinks as the Centrelea Community Hall becomes Centrelea Cinema every second Saturday.
Anne Crossman said that in order for community halls to survive, they have to come up with new ideas and involve the community. She’s found herself serving popcorn and drinks as the Centrelea Community Hall becomes Centrelea Cinema every second Saturday. - Lawrence Powell

Centrelea in rural Nova Scotia may be a far cry from the set of the 1931 movie Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi – but not so far as you might think. The other male lead in that famous movie loved the little Annapolis County hamlet west of Bridgetown and was the recent inspiration for movie nights at the local community hall.

David Manners played John Harker in the horror movie classic and was a leading man in Hollywood playing opposite such stars as Katherine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, and Claudette Colbert. When he gave up films in the mid-1930s, Centrelea became a refuge where he had visited relatives during many summers.

Anne Crossman, who is on the Centrelea Community Hall board, said community halls need to revamp their programming. “It’s a new age, we have new people moving in, the people who used to use the halls are aging,” Crossman said.

When the movie night idea came up, they jumped on it and Centrelea Cinema was born.

And people loved the first one, Crossman said. And you guessed it – the 1931 movie Dracula was the debut film.

“It was great. We had no idea how it was going to go,” said Crossman.

“Not a clue. You roll the dice and you say ‘okay we’re going to try this,’” said resident Nancy Godfrey, who with partner Kevin Kozoriz came up with the idea and supplied the cinema-style popcorn machine.

David Manners

“The first one was Dracula, and the reason we picked that is because one of the stars was David Manners, born in Halifax, became a big star in Hollywood, spent his summers in Centrelea right across the street,” said Kozoriz. “When he walked away from Hollywood, getting tired of the whole deal, in 1935 I believe it was, he became an author and his first book was called A Convenient Season based in Centrelea talking about his summers he spent out here, in a fictional way, visiting his aunt and uncle.”

In fact you can look out the front door of the community hall and literally throw a rock and hit Manners’ uncle’s house just past the church.

The first movie night was Feb. 23, and a couple dozen people turned out for the event that charges no admission, but does provide the opportunity for donations to the hall. The popcorn costs a Tooney, and you can get other snacks and hot drinks too. There’s a screen the size of a large big-screen TV tacked to the wall and an overhead projector, acquired on the cheap, hangs from a pipe from the ceiling.

“This is a 1931 movie, black and white, hokey as anything,” said Crossman of the first night. “People laughed, and then it was quiet at some of the dramatic points. It was really kind of funny to watch the reaction to this. When you think of it, 1931, that’s a long time ago. It was really neat to make all the connections. Centrelea already has Ernest Buckler, and now we’ve got a movie star. How cool is that?”

Buckler’s The Mountain and the Valley, also set in the same area as Manners’ A Convenient Season, is among Canada’s top literary fiction. Buckler has been celebrated at the hall several times in recent years by literary fans, many who knew him personally.

New Ideas

“We had people who probably never stepped in the hall before,” said Godfrey of the first night success. Crossman said that in fact almost all of the people who attended had never been to the hall before.

“We have to come up with new ideas, because we have to run the hall and if these halls are going to survive they have to have some kind of income,” said Crossman. “We don’t make a lot of money on this. It’s a goodwill donation. But it’s good to get new ideas instead of the usual things that we do.”

“How many times can you do a potluck dinner,” Godfrey asked.

“The other thing is getting volunteers to do those potlucks,” Crossman said. “We’re all getting old.”

Godfrey said showing movies at the hall has been an idea in the back of her mind for years. She said the idea is to show movies that don’t get a lot of TV play, or if they do they’re so broken up with commercials you lose the value of the movie.

“It just seemed to me this was the perfect location for it,” said Godfrey. “It’s close enough to towns that people from the towns could come. We just wanted to make it a way to bring the family out to see movies. We decided to put together a thing where you could bring a family of four and have an evening out and it not break the bank.”

Coming Up

A Leaque of Their Own was shown on March 9 and organizers added hotdogs to the canteen menu in honour of baseball. Coming up it’s The Muppet Movie on March 23 and Lilies of the Field on April 6. Dr. No, The African Queen, The Pink Panther, and others brings the Centrelea Cinema to the end of June.

Bad weather dates are the next Saturday and patrons are advised to bring a cushion. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

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