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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives on the West End with his lovely wife Emily, where they watch all the movies ever made. When not 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: December 30, 2016

Portland library will screen civil rights films all month

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Scene from "Freedom On My Mind," screening Jan. 26. Photo courtesy of Portland Public Library

Scene from “Freedom On My Mind,” screening Jan. 26. Photo courtesy of Portland Public Library

I’ll keep complaining that it’s ludicrous that a film-loving, artsy city like Portland doesn’t have a true art house theater until some brave soul opens one. (I mean, Boothbay, Rockland and Waterville all do. And Brunswick has two, for crying out loud.)

Still, non-traditional venues in Portland valiantly pick up the slack. SPACE Gallery and the Portland Museum of Art’s PMA Films both bring in the sort of ambitious, challenging fare an art house proper would provide.

But don’t sleep on the Portland Public Library either. Each month, the library — thanks to dedicated outside-the-box thinkers like AV specialist Patti Delois and programming manager Rachael Harkness — organizes a weekly film series around a different theme. (In addition to annual events like the library’s ongoing summer documentary series and its co-sponsorship of screenings with local organizations.)

Starting off 2017, the Portland Public Library is dedicating its Thursday screenings to documentaries on the topic of civil rights in America.

These screenings (as always, at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays and free to the public) are culled from the film library of the acclaimed California Newsreel collection, described by Harkness in a press release as “the oldest, independent non-profit documentary center in the country and the first systematically to integrate media production and distribution with the media needs of contemporary social change movements.”

Apart from the fact that these four movies tell stories of courage in the face of injustice and intimidation that all Americans would do well to be reminded of, a civil rights film series at a library just makes sense.

A library is, at its heart, the antithesis of oppressors’ plans. It’s a place where, for free, any person can choose to experience ideas without restriction. There’s a reason why those seeking to shut down dissent focus their criticism on facts. Informed people are more likely to draw inspiration from the thoughts and deeds of others — like these subjects of the library’s Civil Rights Film Series.

Thursday: “Hoxie: The First Stand” (56 min)

In the first days after the groundbreaking Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that ordered the desegregation of America’s schools, a tiny town in Arkansas became the first in the Jim Crow South to voluntarily integrate, with the all-white town government calling the decision, simply, “morally right.” This documentary about a forgotten chapter in U.S. civil rights history examines how that decision to follow the law of the land turned a sleepy town into a hotbed of anti-government “states’ rights” rhetoric and violence awfully familiar to anyone keeping an eye on present-day politics.

Here’s the trailer for “Hoxie: The First Stand:”

Jan. 12: “The Road to Brown” (56 min)

The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling overthrew, among other things, the fallacy that “separate” could ever truly be “equal,” an unjust disparity whose devastating effects were demonstrated by black attorney Charles Hamilton Houston. Another largely forgotten part of the country’s civil rights movement, Houston — whose years documenting the shocking contrasts between white and black schools helped lead to the ruling — is the subject of this still all-too-relevant depiction of Americans willingly believing in fallacies that reinforce their own prejudices.

Here’s a scene from “The Road to Brown”

 

Jan. 19: “Negroes With Guns” (67 min)

Robert F. Williams, a former head of the NAACP in segregated North Carolina, is yet another civil rights leader whose name has begun to fade, despite his work to defeat Jim Crow laws — and his controversial stances in doing so. Disagreeing with Dr. Martin Luther King and other black leaders calling for non-violent resistance to often-violent oppression, Williams was one of the most high-profile civil rights figures calling for blacks to meet violence with violence of their own. The documentary examines why Williams, who influenced the creation of the Black Panther movement while in self-imposed exile, and his ideas of just who has the right to bear arms remains a challenging figure today.

A scene from “Negroes With Guns”

Jan. 26: “Freedom On My Mind” (105 min)

This Oscar-nominated 1994 documentary lets the members of the 1960s Mississippi freedom movement tell their story in their own words. The “Freedom Summer” saw activists from inside and outside of the state challenging Mississippi’s racist and restrictive voter registration laws, all of which were explicitly designed to disenfranchise black voters. In the aftermath of an election where the gutting of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which this movement helped inspire) saw black voters disproportionately struck from voting rolls once again — well, let’s just call this film enduring relevant.

“Freedom On My Mind” Trailer

The Civil Rights film series will screen every Thursday in January at 6:30 p.m. in the Portland Public Library’s Rines Auditorium. All showings are free and open to the public, and refreshments are provided.


COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
FRONTIER (Brunswick)
Thursday-Sunday: “Seasons.” Start out the new year with this visually stunning nature documentary from “Winged Migration” directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, this one about the lush European forests that sprouted up with the retreat of the last Ice Age.

SPACE GALLERY (Portland)
Tuesday, Jan. 10: “The Jones Family Will Make A Way.” When gospel icon Bishop Fred Jones breaks from the insular Pentecostal circuit, he and his musical family find an unlikely ally in the form of jaded critic Michael Corcoran in this documentary co-presented by Portland Ovations.

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