Fearing that the Westmont Theatre was headed for demolition, lifelong Haddon Township resident and Rowan University film school graduate Brent J. Donaway set out to capture the vivid history of the theatre. The project started in September 2005 and Brent spent the next 22 months producing/directiong a short documentary on the then 80-year history of the local landmark. The film was entitled, The Grand Old Lady.
With over 500 local residents in attendance, the film received a favorable reception at its premiere on May 5, 2007 at the Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township, New Jersey. The success of the Ritz Theatre screening lead to another screening later that summer at the Broadway Theatre in Pitman, New Jersey, where the film was part of a program geared toward theatre preservation and was accompanied by film theatre historian Allen Hauss and his slide-show presentation on South Jersey Movie Palaces. In November 2007, The Grand Old Lady was an official selection at the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Since 2008, Brent has continued to follow and film the Westmont and those who wish to preserve/restore the building as a film and performing arts venue. His next film, currently untitled, will be a follow up focused on the theatre’s status since the film’s release and the advocacy groups that formed to preserve the building.
The teaser trailer below was produced in 2009. It was assumed back then that by 2012 the theatre’s story would come to an end – building would either be restored, or demolished. Neither of those outcomes have taken place yet. So Brent continues to film and voice his support for the preservation and restoration of the Westmont Theatre as a film and performing arts venue.