We have been showing films in our Cinema Space at Auburn Public Theater since the middle of 2008. We unofficially opened for business with Steven Spielberg’s classic movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A friend recently asked why I chose this particular film to go first, even though it was not our official opening and the film was hardly current. For me, on some level, watching films has always been an answer to the siren calls of the world at large, bringing people and places and stories into focus, literally and figuratively, in a way no other medium can. And I think this is what Close Encounters is about. The main character is compelled through an experience he does not fully understand to answer a siren call. The original founders of Auburn Public Theater were similarly motivated. Downtown needed a movie theater. We knew that much but not much more. Then a local foundation gave us a generous grant to replace our nearly collapsing roof. The professional roofing company wanted to be part of making the dream of APT a reality so they donated their profit back to the theater. We called the local foundation to tell them about this windfall. They suggested we find another project and apply the additional funds to that. Voila: our Cinema Space was born. One step at a time, the mystery is revealed. And so it is.
We showed the documentary film Surfwise for our official opening weekend on July 18th & 19th. The only thing about it being the official opening of the Cinema Space, by the way, is that we said that it was. The film’s producer and one of the subjects of the film, Jonathan Paskowitz, joined us for the weekend and hosted Q&A’s after both screenings. He brought along his girlfriend at the time, Sarah, and on Saturday night, Janie MicGlire and I – God, I really hope! – treated them to a drink at Parker’s while the film was playing. We had a great conversation. That much I remember for sure. Sarah had a lot to share with us about this great social experiment we were conducting at Auburn Public Theater, the building of a public performance arts center smack dab in the center of downtown and what it could mean to the local community if it succeeded and how to make it succeed, etc. I also remember her asking lots of questions and Janie opening up about a personal experience she had had a few years before that. And when it was time to walk back across the street to the theater, I was sorry that our brief time together at that little table had to end. A week or so later, I called Jonathan for something, who remembers what, and he made reference to his girlfriend, Sarah Brokaw. “What?! You mean Tom Brokaw’s daughter?” He was sure he had introduced her to us by her full name. But no, he had not. He had called her “Sarah”. That’s all. And this, ultimately, was the best thing he could have done because she was full of great advice and insights and encouragement about how to make Auburn Public Theater really happen. And if I had known there was a celebrity edge to the experience, I’m sorry to say, I’m not sure I would have listened as closely as I did to all that she had to say. And to this day, I think of her words of wisdom on a regular basis.
Since that opening weekend back in July, 2008, we have shown over 400 films; I could share a story about each one of them. But what compels me here is to instead look forward to what is coming up in our Cinema Space on December 2nd, 3rd and 7th, the documentary film 13TH. Ava DuVernay, the director who made Selma, Middle of Nowhere, Venus Vs. and I Will Follow made this documentary film completely under wraps with no word of its existence known to the world at large until after it was announced as the opening film for the 2016 New York Film Festival. Centered on race in the United States criminal justice system, the film is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed slavery unless as a punishment for a crime. The full Thirteenth Amendment reads as follows: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The film argues that slavery is being effectively perpetuated through mass incarceration.
We knew that to show this film on its own was not enough. The siren call this film attempts to answer is complex, to say the least, and because “13TH strikes at the heart of America’s tangled racial history, offering observations as incendiary as they are calmly controlled” (Critic Consensus, Rotten Tomatoes), it is our hope that on Monday, December 5th at 6:30pm in Stage Right, all who are interested will join us for a community wide dialogue about the film. This event was designed by and will be facilitated by Gwen Webber-McLeod, President/CEO of Gwen, Inc.
The conversation on Monday evening will engage participants in large and small group conversations based on questions relevant to the film. In addition to sharing general reactions to the documentary, participants will have the opportunity to reflect on how the film’s major themes are relevant to the community and develop ideas for how they might use learning from this shared experience to improve understanding about diversity and inclusion in homes, workplaces and the community.
I really can’t think of a more relevant use of Auburn Public Theater’s Cinema Space than to show 13TH this coming weekend; nor could the screening of this film be timelier. As for the Great Mystery Of It All unfolding before our very eyes cinematically and otherwise, well, I’m reminded of something an old friend used to say at the end of our visits, “Tune in next time when more will be revealed.” And I feel like I can make you this promise: On Monday, December 5th at 6:30pm in Stage Right, more will definitely be revealed. You’re invited to attend.
Get your tickets for 13th by clicking HERE or check out more about Dec 5th’s Facilitated Discussion by clicking HERE.