Thursday, May 16, 2013

Looking Back 2013...

I should be looking forward. That's where the action is, but I feel I should record some of what's been going on at the Strand while it's fresh in my mind.

Our lack of Air Conditioning/Heat dictates that we will be going on Summer hiatus here as far as public screenings are concerned. It also seems to cause us to have concentrated seasons, and the last 11 weeks, we have screened 11 feature films, presented 6 live theatrical performances, and more. In addition we had a number of special features attached to some of the programs.

In recognition of Black History Month our season started February 28 with a special free screening of LisaGay Hamilton's Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, a documentary about the Academy Award winning actress who was a Vicksburger.  There were almost 30 in attendance. I hope we can arrange for LisaGay to come present the film sometime in the future, because it needs to be seen, especially here.

On Saturday, March 2 we showed Jafar  Panahi's This is Not a Film. It was extremely cold that night, so there were only about 16 in the theatre, but they were a dedicated group, and were hopefully rewarded by the recent and thought provoking essay made by a man who is forbidden by the Iranian government to make films.

A week later, on Saturday, March 9, the Strand presented a foreign classic: Purple Noon/Plein Soleil Rene Clement's 1960 version of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Alain Delon. The still wintry temperatures outside were offset by the languidly beautiful Italian Riviera against which Mr. Ripley did some despicable things.

We added a new high tech facet to our screening of ELZA, a film with no distribution yet. Before the film we called the director, Mariette Monpierre , on the phone which we patched into the house sound system. The audience of about 60 folks was able to hear her enthusiasm all the way from New York City as she introduced her debut feature. The screening was Saturday, March 16.

After having films three weeks in a row, we had to let the thespians take over the stage of the Strand for 2 weekends of performances of Arsenic and Old Lace. Then we took a few weeks off while we prepared for our really big shows.

On Friday, April 26, we presented an evening with Charles Burnett as the opening event of a weekend in his honor. Burnett is a writer/director who was born in Vicksburg in 1944, and who was gracious enough to let us talk him into traveling from his home in Los Angeles to spend a weekend with us.

The first night was an interview with the director interspersed with clips and trailers from several of his films. the program was followed by a dessert reception in the lobby, so all could socialize with our guest of honor. Attendance was good, and there were quite a few people who had traveled to come to this program including Nina Parikh from the Mississippi Film Office.

Next night, we screened two of Mr. Burnett's most well known films: Killer of Sheep and To Sleep with Anger. Between the films we served a buffet dinner, providing both a meal and another opportunity to hang with our guest. He introduced both films to near standing room only audiences, and took a few questions after each film.

On Sunday evening, even though Mr. Burnett was already back in Los Angles, the final night of our Charles Burnett weekend featured screenings of two of his rarely seen films. The more downbeat My Brother's Wedding was followed by The Annihilation of Fish, the hilarious unreleased comedy starring James Earl Jones and Lynn Redgrave as elderly, extremely star crossed lovers.

Two weeks later the Strand hosted a weekend of Civil War related programming in observance of Vicksburg's Civil War sesquicentennial. Friday, May 10 an excerpt of Ken Burn's Civil War was presented for free.

Saturday, May 11, the heart of the weekend was a rare showing of the first feature film made in Mississippi: The Crisis, a tale of the Civil War filmed almost totally here in Vicksburg in 1916. The print of this public domain film is in the collection of the Old Courthouse Museum, and was presented with their cooperation. The print is 16mm and required retrofitting a projector into the Strand. this was likely the first actual projected film in the Strand since the 1960's. The silent film was accompanied by Tracy Gardner on piano.

During the reel change, we took an intermission, and were treated to Jeff Giambrone's comments and answers to questions about the film. Jeff has done extensive research on the making of The Crisis, but had never seen it. His perspectives helped the audience appreciate what a rare treat it was to be able to see it. Ward Emling, head of the Mississippi Film Commission, was there, specifically because the making of Crisis marks the beginning of filmmaking in the state.

Sunday, May 12 at 4 PM we presented the incomparable Buster Keaton with The General. This film is listed as the 35th best film ever by the 2012 Sight and Sound poll of 486 international critics. It was a fun way to end the Civil War weekend and the 2013 Spring season of the Strand Cinema project.

I cannot imagine a more rich 11 weeks for our little handmade cinema. But that is exactly the task before us: imagining and bringing to fruition more and better programming. No wonder I'm looking back.

As I look back, I would like to recognize the efforts of a few people who know that someone has to make things happen:  Jack Burns, president of the Westside Theatre Foundation; volunteers from the WTF: Stacy Schrader, Michelle Fisackerly, and Kathy Kleinman; Tracy Gardner for her musical accompaniment, Heather Burns of Just Desserts for her sweet contributions; David and Andrew of the Bazinsky House for providing lodging for our guest; Amy & Dennis of Milestone Films and Carolyn Hays for all their help with the Burnett weekend; all the many who made food and more for the receptions during the Burnett weekend; the Old Courthouse Museum; (I will think of more who deserve mentioning including my wife, Lesley Silver)...

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