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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: June 25, 2018

Animated shorts about actual ‘real Americans’ to screen in Congress Square

Written by: Dennis Perkins

Congress Square Arts present a 75-minute collection of animated shorts from the oral history non-profit organization StoryCorps.
Photos courtesy of StoryCorps, Space Gallery and Congress Square

Everyone has a story. Yes, even those of us not traditionally depicted on screen, except when Hollywood decides to dramatize the tribulations of “normal” folks in preparation for Oscar season. (“This fall, Jennifer Lawrence uses her real accent, and Ryan Gosling doesn’t shave in ‘We’re Just Like You!’ “) For all the talk about representation of “real Americans,” actual real Americans – in all their diversity, complexity and everyday poetry – often fly under the radar of public consciousness.

On July 3, Portland’s downtown communal gathering spot (and summertime free movie destination), Congress Square Park, is the place to be for a dose of real American storytelling, as Space Gallery and Congress Square Arts present a screening of animated shorts from the acclaimed oral history nonprofit organization StoryCorps. StoryCorps ( has been traveling the country (in customized Airstream trailer recording/listening booths) since 2003, essentially letting America tell its own story, one individual at a time.

“It’s a grab bag of funny and touching and heartwarming and insightful,” explained Space Gallery co-founder and organizer of the screening Jon Courtney of the 75-minute collection, culled from StoryCorps’s growing number of charmingly illustrated recordings. Currently choosing just which animated anecdotes out of StoryCorps’s massive collection will make up the Congress Square program, Courtney promises that the evening will be made up of a truly representative cross-section of autobiographical American tales.

“There will be a mix of heavy and light,” said Courtney, who’s adding this first outing in a Congress Square summer documentary series to his duties programming the consistently great movies at Space and PMA Films. “There will be stories about military life and service, father-son connections, 9/11 experiences, LGBTQ stories and immigrant stories,” he said, explaining that that last element remains especially timely.

Adding that StoryCorps, founded by radio producer David Isay, was largely inspired by similar efforts at preserving people’s voices by the WPA in the 1930s and garrulous oral historian and writer Studs Terkel, Courtney says that StoryCorps’s mission is above all, a humanistic one. “There’s a dignity and respect to how they present and preserve all these people’s stories,” he said, noting that Portland’s own Salt Institute for Documentary Studies does a similar, Maine-centric version.

As ever, screenings in Congress Square start when it gets dark enough to actually see what’s being projected on the outdoor screen (around 8 p.m.), and Courtney says that the StoryCorps program is just the first of three documentary offerings this “mini documentary series” will be presenting there. Look for the inspirational docs “Swim Team” (about an athletic program for autistic children) on Aug. 7 and the rousing Baltimore-set dance-competition documentary “Step” on Sept. 4. Said Courtney of this documentary-based adjunct to the Sunday Portland Summer Films popcorn movies in Congress Square, “This is an opportunity to put some stuff in the park that’s a little different.”

So head on over to Congress Square Park on Tuesday, July 3, along with your fellow Portlanders, for this free evening of animated tales. And, should the spirit move you, why not listen to some of the stories going on all around you. Everybody’s got stories.

For more information, head to the event page on Facebook or the Space Gallery website.


Friday-Sunday: “Mountain.” Why do we climb mountains? Well, to be more exact, this visually stunning documentary asks why the people who climb mountains climb mountains. The rest of us like to watch films about people climbing mountains.

Sunday: “Little Shop of Horrors.” Come on out once the sun goes down for a free outdoor screening of this completely bananas, entirely entertaining musical-comedy-horror film about a man-eating plant (who sings) and the poor schlub (Rick Moranis, in fine singing voice as well) who has to keep the leafy monster happy.

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