“I think that’s our niche; We don’t have to sell tickets.”
That’s Rachael Harkness, program manager at the Portland Public Library, speaking about the library’s ongoing commitment to adding eclectic, interesting films to Portland’s movie-going scene. In addition to providing local and visiting filmmakers with a chance to present their movies to the public (like last week’s showing of the Uganda documentary “Struggle for Recovery” from Portland director Tim Ouillette), the library’s dedicated staff continues to schedule monthly movie film festivals.
Organized around a theme (traditionally chosen by the library’s audiovisual specialist Patti DeLois), these Thursday screenings are carefully culled from film history — and DeLois’ impressive knowledge thereof.
“We’ve been trying for five or six years now to establish a time of day, a time of the week and to try out different subject matter,” said Harkness, noting that, recently, the library’s film series have seen an uptick in public interest. January’s offerings, which focused on films about the American Civil Rights Movement, routinely drew 30 to 40 people to each screening. For Harkness, that was most gratifying. April’s film series, focusing on films about the Holocaust, looks to continue the trend, by bringing in a quartet of uniformly powerful and thought-provoking WWII films.
“April 18 is one of the Holocaust Remembrance dates observed in various Jewish communities and at the Holocaust Memorial Museum,” DeLois said about the reason for choosing April for the library’s Holocaust Film Series, adding that that’s the date of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis. The films — as usual, screening for free every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Library’s Rines Auditorium — include:
– “Europa Europa” (April 6): Agnieszka Holland’s wrenching 1990 drama-thriller about a young Jewish man in Germany whose desperate attempts to hide his heritage see him wind up as a member of the Hitler Youth. Rated PG-13.
– “Phoenix” (April 13): This acclaimed 2014 thriller sees a disfigured Holocaust survivor (the amazing Nina Hoss) returning unrecognized to her old life to discover if the man she loved was the one who betrayed her during the war. Rated PG-13.
– “The Last Days” (April 20): In the waning days of World War II, the Nazis devoted most of their dwindling resources and energy to finishing the racist genocide they called “The Final Solution.” This documentary chronicles the experiences of five now-elderly Jewish survivors of the Nazis’ “ethnic cleansing” of Hungary. Rated PG-13.
– “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” (April 27): The young son of the commandant of a concentration camp befriends the sad boy on the other side of the barbed wire in this 2008 tearjerker about innocence in the face of the unthinkable. Rated PG-13.
In a year where the political climate has seen those concerned about anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry becoming more politically aware and involved, the library remains committed to its mission of providing free information.
“We’re Switzerland,” Harkness said, laughing. “A movie like ‘Europa Europa,’ for example, reminds me of why I love these film series. It was made in the ’90s, but it’s totally relevant. Patti has this vast archive of films and knowledge without the pressure of having to be contemporary and new in what she chooses for us. And yet she finds us films that are completely relevant and important, so we can bring them to people’s minds. I think, these days, people are looking for ways to get involved, and we can do that in such a neutral way. It’s what we do; we say, ‘Here is some information.’ ”
Friday: “Kedi.” A refreshing remedy for all that ails you, this Turkish documentary about the thousands of half-tame cats that wander the streets of Istanbul is an 80-minute equivalent of those soothing YouTube cat videos you use to take breaks from the news.
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Tuesday: “The Home Road.” Come meet filmmaker Tonya Shevenell and her father, Ray, as they present her documentary about his quest to recreate the 200-mile trek made by his immigrant great-great-grandfather, Israel. In 1845, 19-year-old Israel walked from Canada to his new home in Biddeford, a journey undertaken in 2015 by the then-74-year-old Ray.