Bill Duggan’s film-buff legacy — all 18,000 titles — lives on at the Portland Public Library.[M]any a Maine cinephile wept into her popcorn last July when Bill Duggan, owner and chief movie geek at Portland’s 28-year-old Videoport rental shop, announced he was closing his doors. Even casual movie fans grieved. Underground and vaguely dungeon-like, Videoport was the kind of place where the staff could point you towards (and heatedly discuss) all of Fellini’s early neorealist works, but were equally happy to rent out (and heatedly discuss) Independence Day or The Howling. In this age of algorithmic Netflix recommendations, the closure prompted a collective nostalgia among Portlanders for whenever they’d last “discovered” that favorite obscure flick among Videoport’s vast stacks.
Then Duggan did something unexpected. Following the demise of his business, he took the thing he’d been selling for three decades and made it so everyone could get it for free. He offered the Portland Public Library his whole collection — 18,000 DVDs, including crates of hard-to-find foreign titles, art films, obscure documentaries, B-movie schlock, and more.
“It’s a tremendous collection, in both senses of the word,” says PPL spokeswoman Emily Levine. In one giant truckload, the donation doubled the library’s film catalog.
It was a bittersweet gesture for Duggan, but to hear him tell it, the alternative was worse. He’d seen industry pals try to liquidate their stock — “all these esoteric and strange films, great foreign films, this beautiful inventory” — only to watch, heartbroken and slashing prices, while half-interested shoppers picked through.
Check out this micro-documentary on the end of Videoport by local video production shop p3.
“What a torturous experience,” Duggan says. “We had like 2,500 foreign-language films, half out of print. Our Incredibly Strange Film section had all of Russ Meyer, Frank Henenlotter, John Waters. All that cool stuff doesn’t just pop up anywhere. I didn’t want to break that up.”
Now “all that cool stuff” is intact and just a library card’s swipe away. As of December, the whole stockpile is visible in the PPL catalog, with a few thousand films on the floor and the rest able to be requested from off-site storage.
“It’s the best ending there could have been,” Duggan says, shrugging off any mention of generosity. “Local businesses do this kind of thing. They’re entwined in their communities — especially in Maine.” Plus, Duggan adds, there’s his own personal use to consider. Say he needs to watch La Dolce Vita or Cat Women of the Moon? “Now I know it’ll be at the library, so I can go get it too when I want.”
Photo by Michael Wilson