One of my fondest memories of childhood was the Saturday Morning Kiddie Show at the Pines Theater in Lufkin, Texas.
This was (as my son often tells me) back in the covered wagon days before television became so popular.
It all started about 9 a.m., when moms and dads started dropping off kids ages 9 through 14 for a day at the movie theater — and I do mean a day. It began with about an hour of cartoons, followed by an episode from a serial starring Tom Mix or Lash LaRue or featuring Superman, all of them sounding as though they had big wads of cotton in their mouths. The endings always left us in suspense (sort of the way Dancing With the Stars or Survivor does nowadays), so we'd go back the next week.
Then there was a movie, usually a western or sometimes a comedy or adventure film about people trekking through Africa, most of them filled with what today would be considered politically incorrect stereotypes.
Then there would be more cartoons, and then the regular feature film would come on, a movie not always appropriate for young eyes. (I came within a hair's breadth of seeing Jane Russell in The Outlaw, a rather tame movie by today's standards but considered too sexually charged for us kids back in those times. I did see the still-scary murder mystery Rebecca because my mom thought it was Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.)
We'd stagger out of the theater about 4 p.m., bleary-eyed and stuffed with popcorn, soft drinks and Hershey bars, with flecks of Bit-O-Honey or Sugar Daddies stuck to our teeth, our "balanced meal" of the day.
I think one of many reasons I love Richey Suncoast Theatre is that it reminds me of those wonderful days when the movie theater was a Big Deal. And it will be once again at 8 p.m. Nov. 12, when the first-ever Thomas Meighan Film Festival brings back the kiddie show format, only this time with more appeal for those ages 14 and older.
The festival has been the dream of Marchman Technical Education Center teacher Rob Mateja, Greater New Port Richey Main Street director Deborah Pentivolpi and Richey Suncoast Theatre stalwarts Charlie and Marie Skelton ever since the 32-year-old Black Maria (pronounced muh-RYE-uh) Film + Video Festival came to Richey Suncoast two years ago on its swing across the country and around the world.
The short films in Black Maria — named for Thomas Edison's first movie studio in New Jersey 115 years ago — inspired Mateja to do something similar for area filmmakers.
The word went out, and entries came in from videographers not just from the United States, but also from around the world.
Mateja has put them together to create a two-hour show of talent and variety that will outdo any kiddie show ever imagined.
The evening includes one film 49 minutes long, another 29 minutes long and four others from 3 to 8 minutes long.
The goal is "to inspire and advance a greater appreciation of independent film and digital art, as well as raise awareness of historic preservation and the cultural identity of New Port Richey," Mateja said. "We don't have a big film community" right now, but Mateja, Pentivolpi and the Skeltons hope this film fest will change all that.
Appropriately, it's taking place in the historic Meighan theater, now known as Richey Suncoast Theatre, which was started in 1925 in hopes that filmmakers would flock to New Port Richey. The Great Depression scuttled those dreams, but the theater lives on, gloriously restored to something even more beautiful than the original, thanks to hard work by the Skeltons and the many helpers and donors who came forward to help fulfill their dreams of resurrecting the crumbling theater.
Although the festival backers were thrilled by the response to their call for films, they're hoping that more locals contribute in future years.
"We want to help create a cinematic rebirth in New Port Richey," Mateja said.