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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: October 2, 2014

Free screenings of once-banned stories: Banned Book Film Series at Portland Public Library on Thursdays in October

Written by: Dennis Perkins
“The Lord of the Flies." Courtesy photo

“The Lord of the Flies.” Courtesy photo

Portland Public Library extends Banned Books Week with a film series throughout October.

Libraries are the souls of a free society because they represent the free exchange of ideas. America’s not perfect, but it’s our willingness to admit ideas into the national discourse that are going to be unpopular to some of the population. That’s what sets us apart. And libraries – publicly funded repositories of written ideas – embody that idealistic openness.

That’s what’s so offensive to me about banning books – it’s someone deciding that his or her dislike of an idea carries authority enough to deprive other people of making up their own minds. For one thing, I can’t imagine a book or movie that wouldn’t offend someone somewhere that wouldn’t be completely insipid. For another, banning a book or a film is thoroughly un-American in its very essence.

So, with 2014’s Banned Books Week – during which libraries and bookstores defiantly celebrate the very books people have tried to keep you from reading – wrapping up last week, the Portland Public Library is keeping the discussion alive with its third annual Banned Book Film Series, beginning Oct. 9 and running every Thursday in October.

Screenings are free to the public (and suggested for adult audiences) and will take place at the Library’s Rines Auditorium at 6:30 p.m., with a staff-led discussion to follow.

A scene from “Sophie’s Choice." Courtesy photo

A scene from “Sophie’s Choice.” Courtesy photo

The brainchild of the PPL’s own Patty Delois, the series seeks to keep the library’s mission statement in the public eye, according to library programming manager Rachael Weyand.

“Our goal is to provide free and open access to these books and movies,” explains Weyand. “Our goal is to protect access to these books for people. This is another way to highlight some of the stories that have been banned and bring attention to them.”

– First up on Oct. 9 is “The Kite Runner,” based on the novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini, the harrowing but uplifting story of two boys clinging to their unlikely friendship under Taliban rule. Both the book and the 2007 film have been challenged multiple times, for a variety of reasons, in libraries across the country – and both have received great acclaim.

– On Oct. 16, it’s “Sophie’s Choice,” based on the novel by William Styron. Perhaps better known for the 1982 Alan Pakula film because of Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning role as a tortured Holocaust survivor, the book, while considered a modern classic, has been repeatedly banned, by school boards, perhaps objecting that a film about the horrors of Nazi genocide contained disturbing accounts of Nazi genocide.

– Then, on Oct. 23, it’s the venerable classic “The Lord of the Flies,” with a screening of Peter Brook’s stark 1963 adaptation of William Golding’s tale of a planeload of proper British schoolboys whose crash landing on a deserted island brings out the best, and worst, of the human soul. Repeatedly banned by those who object to the idea that, deprived of the accumulated lessons of civilization, some people will choose fascism – which sort of proves the book’s point.

– Finishing up on Oct. 30, the series presents Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Maine horror legend Stephen King’s “The Shining,” with Jack Nicholson vying for “worst dad ever” honors once his frustrated writer is trapped in a haunted hotel. Yup, not even the publishing juggernaut that is King is immune, with this (along with most King books) being yanked from shelves from time to time.

So how does Maine fare in the book-banning sweepstakes? Thankfully, pretty well, according to Weyand. “We have had one request for reconsideration in distant memory,” she states. “But if it does occur, we ask people to fill out a request for reconsideration, and then it goes to a committee. We always hear about it happening in a different state than Maine.”

As to the reason for extending public awareness of the issue through the film festival, Weyand explains, “The American Library Association makes a big deal out of Banned Books Week because it’s about celebrating the freedom to read. We don’t take a stance on the books on our shelves, we see it as our role to help people have access to anything they want to read.

“The film series allows people to understand the concept of the book quicker. We’re not trying to encourage people not to read the book, but this is a good, quick way to get people interested in reading them.”


Tuesday: “Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The Case Of The Three Sided Dream.” Inspirational documentary about jazz musician and activist Kirk who, though blind and later nearly paralyzed, carried on playing his unique, three-horns-simultaneously jazz literally until the day he died. Part of SPACE’s Fall Music Film Series.

FRONTIER, Brunswick |
Tuesday: “Call Me Crazy.” Five short films explore the ways in which supportive relationships help those coping with mental illness. Part of Frontier’s Our Health Film Series.

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