A long time ago, in a world a pandemic away, a big part of what I’d do in this column was let people know what was coming to the local theater. Even when the main subject wasn’t a big-screen event somewhere in Maine, I’d include a sidebar, called Coming to Local Screens, to steer readers toward notable movies playing at one of the state’s independent theaters. And while the COVID dilemma has still got that aspect of Indie Film sighing, looking at the latest infection rates and then hitting the delete key once again, the movies are, indeed, starting to open up.
I ventured out to my first in-person movie screening in more than a year this summer, flush as I was with optimism (and a double Moderna dose) that one of life’s chief joys was, just maybe, going to be within reach again. I haven’t gone back, as Maine’s COVID rates have crept back up, thanks to the defiantly unvaccinated.
But live movies are happening, and for smaller, independent screening venues, the shift away from their scrappy, necessity-born virtual model back to in-person screenings leaves supporters weighing their options. Portland’s beloved indie venues (The Apohadion Theater, Space and PMA Films) are are all moving back to in-person screenings, although with the hard lessons learned (by some of us) during this pandemic forcing some changes.
Jon Courtney, film programmer at Portland Museum of Art, notes that the museum’s innovative and much-welcome online screenings have recently been halted, with PMA Films going back to in-person showings. Said Courtney of PMA’s tentative return to not-quite normal, “We are primarily in-person at the moment (though at 50% capacity and masks required). Doesn’t rule out the possibility of future virtual offerings but we don’t have any on the horizon at the moment.”
Meanwhile, Greg Jamie, programmer at both The Apohadion and Space, notes that the online viewing model, while a vital lifeline for many small theaters during lockdown, may have run its course for now.
“I don’t feel done with virtual for Space or Apohadion,” he said. “In a way I think virtual is done with us.”
Citing his work alongside the artists and filmmakers involved in Space’s ambitious, multimedia online experimental showcase Ancestralidad y Trance, Jamie explains, “Virtual cinema nationally is understandably being phased out as theaters try to reopen successfully, and so there are fewer new options of films being released that way right now. But as numbers continue to be awful with COVID, I do believe it’s worth finding ways of presenting virtual options for people who want to support their local theaters and stay home.” (The Apohadion’s website outlines that weird and wonderful venue’s new in-person COVID guidelines in no uncertain terms.)
And so PMA Films, The Apohadion and Space are all showing live films in this week. And, as is their way, each is presenting the sort of challenging, off-the-path cinematic experiences we love them for bringing us. Space is showing Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 thrilling masterpiece of revolutionary semi-documentary filmmaking, “The Battle of Algiers,” screening on Sunday. A still-controversial depiction of the Algerian fight for independence from French occupation, the film remains a shocking and thought-provoking examination of the role of bloody violence in the fight for freedom that posits how the term “terrorist” will always depend on who you’re asking.
PMA Films is opening up its doors to masked, vaccinated and responsibly spaced-out viewers to a Friday-through-Sunday run of Maine filmmaker Richard Kane’s documentary, “Truth Tellers.” It’s the true story of Brooksville, Maine painter and activist Robert Shetterly, whose 255 portraits of past and present-day Americans highlight people “who had the moral courage to confront issues of social, environmental and economic justice.”
And at The Apohadion this week is the live presentation of Hungarian animator Marcell Jankovics’ 1981 psychedelic cult cartoon, “Son of the White Mare.” This phantasmagorically witty and weird adaptation of various Hungarian folk tales celebrates the region’s nomadic peoples’ struggles against encroaching industrialization. And if that sounds a lot like the time Krusty the Clown, seeking a replacement cartoon for his lucrative “Itchy & Scratchy Show,” stumbled upon an incomprehensibly didactic Iron Curtain animated series named “Worker and Parasite,” well, you’re not wrong.
Thankfully, “Son of the White Mare” is a delightfully readable parable of ancient heroes with names like Treeshaker fighting squat, industrial-looking dragons who’ve kidnapped three fairy princesses. Presented in flat, imaginatively shifting planes of primary colors, and with distinctly Hungary-centric echoes of Hercules, Orpheus, and the Garden of Eden, “Son of the White Mare” is exactly the feast for the senses best seen on the big screen. If you missed Tuesday night’s screening, you can, like me, watch it at home on The Criterion Channel, but such a bold, beautiful, and ambitiously programmed screening is just the thing that might have lured me out of the house. Maybe.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.