03 Jun 2010

A Summer of Movies on H Street

The Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H St, NE) is screening three film series this summer and we are all probably just a little too excited. Since we rarely produce anything, this was our chance to shape what audiences will see. Of course this also means that the pressure is on because if we pick terrible films and no one comes…well now that would be all our fault.

We knew we needed to do something for people with kids so a family series was key. I thought it needed a focus so I picked movies from the Seventies since I was, in fact, a child during that decade and I imagine many of my fellow parents were too and would enjoy the nostalgia trip.  Choosing was actually pretty tough since The Mouse produced so many kids’ movies in that decade or somehow acquired them (Benji? Escape to Witch Mountain? Mouse.) We can’t show their films for a number of reasons. Instead, we have carefully chosen from what was left and we have a few gems, like The Bad News Bears.  There will be TWO chances to see the young Jodi Foster in her post-Taxi Driver days, as the young Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer and in the strange-yet-awesome kiddie-gangster flick Bugsy Malone…Scott Baio is in this one folks, so you won’t want to miss it.

We thought we needed a bit of romance so we of course turned to Italy and cheekily named the series Cinema al Fresco because, although the movies are being screened indoors, we really wanted to evoke that outdoor summer festival feeling. We’re encouraging people to bring picnics, we may have some pies available, and of course patrons can buy beer and wine. We’ve picked an array of movies set in Italy, some Italian and some English. While we could probably have filled the roster with the “English folks on the Grand Tour” kind of Merchant Ivory film, we have varied them a bit. The series kicks off with Cinema Paradiso, a love story to the movies, and ends with Roman Holiday, a love story to Rome and Audrey Hepburn. Sigh.

The most puzzling to me was the series we’re calling Gay 101. The idea being that there are certain movies one must see to be truly indoctrinated into gay culture. Most of the films are not “gay” films. The list includes classics like All About Eve, The Women, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and campier choices like the movie that killed Faye Dunaway’s career, Mommie Dearest. (Tina get the ax!) I asked my colleague, Scott Kenison, who put the list together, what exactly makes these gay? Doesn’t everyone love Bette Davis??

It was explained to me that the majority of the films feature strong female characters. The gay community has always embraced female icons: Judy, Bette, Madonna, Cher. Of course some films are just inexcusably ridiculous, fun camp like Valley of the Dolls. Scott explained that when he was a younger man in  New York, a favorite pastime for many in the gay community would be going to the movies, taking in the old classics as well as the shared culture that had arisen from the time when homosexuals had to live their lives in the shadows. All that began to change after the Stonewall riots of 1969.

I had heard of Stonewall of course, but I had assumed it was big bar fight that occurred when the gay men of Greenwich Village had decided enough was enough and they were done living in secret. All that is true, but what was news to me was the reason so many gay men were gathering that particular evening was to mourn the loss of the ultimate gay icon, Judy Garland. To this day, a discrete way to confirm sexual orientation is to ask whether or not one is a “Friend of Dorothy’s.” Somehow in all my years of doing theater I had missed that particular bit of knowledge.

So just in time for Pride here in DC, the Gay 101 series will kick off with a showing of the Judy version of A Star is Born, (Sorry Barbra!) that evening will be a benefit for the organization One in Ten which produces the Reel Affirmations, a gay and lesbian film festival, in the fall. Gay 101 is both celebration and education. Everyone is invited to come and enjoy these fabulous films.

Gay 101
8PM Thursdays, June 9 – September 2

70’s Family Series, aka, the Gen X Nostalgia Series
5PM Saturdays, June 19 – September 4

Cinema Al Fresco
8PM Saturdays, June 19 – September 4

Jen DeMayo is Communications Director for the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

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