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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his lovely wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, Cooper. When not watching all the movies ever made or digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: July 17, 2017

Library series screens intimate PBS documentaries

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Kicking off the library's POV Summer Documentary Series on Thursday is "Dalya's Other Country," the story of Syrian refugees. Photos courtesy of Portland Public Library

Kicking off the library’s POV Summer Documentary Series on Thursday is “Dalya’s Other Country,” the story of Syrian refugees. Photos courtesy of Portland Public Library

Picture it: You, a movie fan, looking for something to see on a sultry summer Thursday evening. You’re in the mood for some challenging documentary fare, but you’re low on funds, you’re hot and sweaty, and you’re even a little bit hungry.

So, you step into the Portland Public Library. All problems solved.

That’s because the library’s dedication to providing free entertainment and education isn’t just confined to its extensive collection of books, or even its outstanding selection of DVDs and Blu-rays (thanks to the fact that it took possession of all the films from Portland’s late, still-lamented rental store, Videoport). Nope, the Library has long been a vital adjunct to the city’s movie scene — at least for moviegoers in the know.

The Portland Public Library presents free screenings of films on the widest variety of themes — often in the form of eclectically chosen theme weeks selected by the staff. For the last six years or so, the library has dedicated its summers to showcasing documentaries from the acclaimed PBS documentary showcase POV in its POV Summer Documentary Film Series. Every Thursday from July through September, the Library’s Rines Auditorium is home to a screening of a new installment of the venerable documentary series whose films have, in its nearly 30-year history, garnered multiple Emmy, Peabody and even Academy Awards. An abbreviation for “point of view,” POV shows films that address social issues though the intimate human stories.

“The POV people offer their films to libraries around the country,” said Portland Public Library program manager Rachael Harkness. “They’re generally films that have finished the award and festival circuit and are ready to be played on national TV. We get them a month before they air on PBS. They’re always fascinating, on a diversity of topics. People are almost always left speechless. They’re that powerful.”

A scene from "The Grown Ups," which screens Aug. 3 at the library.

A scene from “The Grown Ups,” which screens Aug. 3 at the library.

Thankfully, and in keeping with the library’s dedication to its mission, viewers of the series won’t be on their own to come to grips with the invariably gripping films. As in the past, Harkness has secured local experts to present and hold post-film discussions for each movie. Co-presenters come from groups as diverse as the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (for this Thursday’s showing of the story of Syrian refugees, “Dalya’s Other Country”), the Frannie Peabody Center (at July 27’s “Memories of a Penitent Heart” about a filmmaker seeking out her late uncle’s former partner) and LearningWorks (for Aug. 17’s “Raising Bertie,” a documentary about three African American boys in rural North Carolina). For a full lineup of the library’s POV Summer Documentary Series and speakers, check out the event website.

As Harkness put it, the library’s ongoing commitment to film is all part of its function as a hub of the community and of ideas. “Over the years, we’ve built an audience of people who love the experience of seeing movies at the library,” she explains. “It ebbs and flows — some subjects draw bigger crowds, and we’re always looking to grow our audiences, but we have die-hard fans who come every week.”

And why wouldn’t they? This often-overlooked movie venue is free, ambitiously programmed, air conditioned in the Maine summers and presented by people who are more than willing to talk movies, or to point you toward some related reading. Plus, as Harkess reminds us, there are snacks — and, as all screenings start right around suppertime (6:30 p.m., to be exact), viewers are invited to bring in some takeout. Try that at a regular movie theater.

The 2017 POV Summer Documentary Series takes place on Thursday evenings at 6:30 p.m. in the Portland Public Library’s Rines Auditorium. Screenings are free and open to the public. Check out the library’s website,, for the complete schedule and roster of films.


Starting Tuesday: “Moonlight.” Return engagement of the 2017 Oscar winner for best film from director Barry Jenkins, about a young black man’s coming of age in a decidedly unglamorous Miami. Starring Naomie Harris, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Trevante Rhodes and best supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali.

Wednesday: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Bayside Bowl once again livens up your cinematic summer with an outdoor screening of Wes Anderson’s acclaimed, visually and emotionally sumptuous comedy-drama about a hapless bellboy taken under the wing of legendary hotel concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Part of the Bayside Bowl Summer Rooftop Film Series, it’s free, but seating is limited.

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