Orwell's "1984" comes alive again on nation's screens, including two in Berkshire County
About 190 art-house theaters have banded together to show the 1984 big-screen adaptation of George Orwell's dystopian masterpiece as a pointed comment on the presidency of Donald Trump, whose "alternative facts" administration has already sent "1984" back up the bestseller lists .
[In Berkshire County, the film will be shown at Images Cinema in Williamstown, Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield and Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington. Screenings begin at 7 p.m. at all three theaters].
"It's what's in the air. People want to do something," says Dylan Skolnick, an organizer of the event and co-director of the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, N.Y. "This started with a conversation about: 'We need to do something. Well, what do we do? We show movies.' So the obvious answer was: We should show a movie."
Cinemas around the country are increasingly programming with political protest in mind, playing movies that have newfound resonance for those who disagree with the policies of the Republican president. In May, some 60 theaters are planning to screen films from the predominantly Muslim nations targeted by Trump's proposed travel ban. That initiative has been dubbed the Seventh Art Stand and billed as "an act of cinematic solidarity against Islamophobia."
Cinemas, particularly independent ones, are places to gather and connect, and they are finding under Trump a renewed sense of mission that goes beyond the usual arguments for the big-screen experience over streaming.
"To really genuinely connect with other people — which seems to be a consistent theme our country is struggling with — it's all about being in a corporeal public sphere together, and doing that in and around art," says Courtney Sheehan, executive director of Seattle's Northwest Film Forum and an organizer of the Seventh Art Stand. "We're not just an ancillary component of social change conversation. This is ground zero for action."
A Trump effect has already been partially seen in the recent box-office success of Jordan Peele's horror hit "Get Out" and Raoul Peck's James Baldwin documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" — movies that offer straight talk on racial issues that might be lacking in Washington. On the small screen, Turner Classic Movies more cheekily programmed Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd," with Andy Griffith as a populist radio personality who rises to political demagogue, to air on Inauguration Day.
"1984," the second movie version starring John Hurt and Richard Burton, will play in 175 cities and 44 states, as well as a few internationally in Canada, England and Sweden. The event has been organized under the name United States of Cinema; its website lists the participating theaters. April 4th was selected because that's when Orwell's Winston Smith begins his forbidden diary as a rebellion against his oppressive government.
"It's just a work that has a lot of resonance with what's going on. It hits a lot of crucial notes," says Skolnick. "Orwell wrote about and the film talks about the essential thing of being able to say two plus two equals four, even if the government says, 'No, two plus two equals five.'
Orwell's portrait of a government that manufactures their own facts, demands total obedience, and demonizes foreign enemies has never been timelier," Images' managing director, Janet Curran, said in a news release. "The endeavor encourages theaters to take a stand for our most basic values: freedom of speech, respect for our fellow human beings, and the simple truth that there are no such things as 'alternative facts.' By doing what they do best — showing a movie — the goal is that cinemas can initiate a much-needed community conversation at a time when the existence of facts and basic human rights are under attack.
"These screenings are intended to galvanize people at the crossroads of cinema and community and bring us together to foster communication and resistance against current efforts to undermine the most basic tenets of our society."
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