- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

MANY, La. (AP) - It’s been 32 years since “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” uttered those now famous words, “Phone home.”

And that’s about the last time movie-goers were able to watch a movie and munch on popcorn during the Sabine Theater’s commercial operations.

The single-screen theater closed shortly after the 1982 showings of the film and remained shuttered for almost 10 years before the town of Many purchased the dilapidated building. In the past 20 years or so it’s enjoyed a second life as a venue for beauty pageants, theater productions, musicals and concerts. But movies have been limited for the most part to sporadic holiday events.

Now the Many Community Center, it has undergone yet another makeover that is bringing movies back to its screen, at least on a limited basis.

The theater’s revival is the result of collaboration between the town, Cultural District of Many, business and civic leaders and citizens interested in seeing the downtown landmark once again become a viable part of the community.

Toledo Bend Reservoir is a magnet for visitors during the spring and summer months. But in the fall and winter, when it’s too nippy to get out on the lake, the Many Community Center will provide an alternative for locals and guests looking for family-oriented entertainment, Mayor Ken Freeman said.

“It’s one more reason to come to Sabine Parish,” Freeman said.

Movies in Many kicked off with “Man in the Moon,” a 1991 movie starring Reece Witherspoon and filmed around Many and Robeline.

Holiday movies and tourism events were scheduled for December. In 2015, the goal is to offer free movies ranging from classics to old-style westerns on the second and third weekends of the month. All will be family-oriented.

Freeman estimates $60,000 has been spent upgrading various aspects of the theater, $25,000 of it from community donations. Primarily, the old reel-to-reel movie system was replaced with what Cultural District Chairwoman Mary Brocato describes as a “state-of-the-art video and audio theater system with surround sound and the ability to show 3-D movies.”

The cost of converting from film to digital is behind the demise nationwide of single-screen theaters. The National Association of Theatre Owners states about 87 percent of the 5,762 theaters in the U.S. are now digital, with the remaining 13 percent comprised of one-screen independents located mostly in rural communities, according to an April report in the Wall Street Journal documenting the struggle of small cinemas.

In Louisiana, there are only three single screens operating as commercial motion picture cinemas, said Adam Harris, owner of one of the three, the Spring Theater in Springhill. Harris purchased it 12 years ago.

The oldest, The Prytania, is in New Orleans. A third, the Fiske Theatre, opened in Oak Grove in Northeast Louisiana, a few years ago.

The community of Bastrop embarked on a journey identical to Many when it transformed The Rose Theatre, a movie theater built in 1927 and closed in the 1970s, into a community theater.

In addition to the projection equipment, the revamped Sabine Theater has been painted inside and out and received new carpet and tile, electrical upgrades and bathroom renovations. Business such as Many Lumber, Rivers Builders Supply and Interstate Building Materials donated paint and supplies.

“Popcorn” Scaife of Toledo Floor Covering donated the tile and labor. Tom Patrick donated his labor and Glass Technology provided glass to frame photographs in the lobby, which is filled with memorabilia found stored in the old theater.

“So through donations, the Sabine Tourism Committee, Sabine Chamber of Commerce, Toledo Bend Lake Association and donors like Cleco, Boise and Atmos, they all gave generously. Mountdaddy Home Theater Systems did an outstanding job installing the surround sound. We just had tremendous support for this project,” said Brocato. “It’s spectacular.”

Freeman credits the Cultural District with taking his vision for the theater beyond expectations.

“The old lady is looking good,” he said. “They have turned Movies in Many into a reality far exceeding what I thought. Not only did they come up with the ideas, they make them happen.”

Freeman is also pleased that the project has drawn together facets of the community that for too long have not been whole-hearted participants. More than 300 people participated in a Nov. 8 veteran’s event at the Many Historic Depot Museum, the second-prong in the Cultural District’s focus on improving the quality of life in Many.

“I love it when the whole community gets involved because it benefits everybody,” Freeman said.

___

Information from: The Times, https://www.shreveporttimes.com

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