CinemaDope: High Five

As it approaches its five-year anniversary this month, Amherst Cinema refuses to rest on its laurels. A success story in a business that has seen massive change and faced tough challenges in the last decade, the three-screen cinema—which brought Northampton’s Pleasant Street Theater under its nonprofit umbrella at the end of 2007, upping its available screens to five—has continued to expand the boundaries of what a local cinema can do.

A look at its website currently reveals that—in addition to its regular programming—the two theaters are screening no fewer than five special film series (and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are others that I overlooked). They cover ground from music documentaries to explorations of how cinema treats science (with relevant guest lecturers, even!). Later this month Amherst will team with the DEFA Film Library of UMass-Amherst to present a series—free to all Five College students—exploring the work of German artist Jurgen Bottcher. Bottcher, you might not be surprised to hear, will be coming to town to introduce his work.

All that is still only a bit of what they do: midnight shows, baby-friendly shows, student film showcases, and more all appear through the year. And in perhaps its grandest gesture, the theater has opened its doors to regional elementary schools with its See”Hear”Feel”Film program, an ambitious, forward-thinking undertaking that strives to increase the “visual literacy” of our children as they grow up in an ever more iconographic world. In my several decades of moviegoing, I can’t recall ever seeing a theater attempt anything like it.

So happy anniversary to Amherst Cinema, and many happy returns. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what the next five years will bring. In the meantime: if you haven’t gotten out there yet, here’s a taste of what Amherst has on tap this week.

Out now is Le Havre, the new film from Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki (The Match Factory Girl). A gently comic film in the tradition of Jacques Tati, it tells the story of an unlikely pair: the French shoeshine man Marcel and Idrissa, the wayward African refugee he takes under his wing. Protecting the boy until he can spirit him to England and his waiting family, Marcel draws on the strength of his working-class neighbors to help him carry the day.

On the 10th, filmmaker Ross McElwee (Sherman’s March) will be in town to present a screening of his new film, Photographic Memory, about which he writes, “Raising a teenage son is far more difficult than making a documentary film, but to attempt to do both simultaneously is madness. In Photographic Memory, I try doing both.” The film documents McElwee’s journey back to a region of Brittany where, four decades ago, he spent a season working as an assistant to a wedding photographer. His Proustian ambitions, however, end up slightly fractured by his son’s critique: “That’s so boring, Dad!”

And on Nov. 14 and 15, expect a packed house for Grey Gardens, the cultishly popular look at the lives of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie (aka “Little Edie”). The aunt and cousin, respectively, of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the pair live hidden away from the world—and with a coterie of cats and raccoons—in the dilapidated mansion that gives the documentary its name. To discuss their lives and behavior, compulsive hoarding expert Dr. Randy Frost will be on hand. For more information or to peruse the rest of Amherst’s offerings, visit


Also this week: Pothole Pictures continues to bring interesting programming to Shelburne Falls, and this Friday it kicks off Astronaut Weekend with a Friday night show of Apollo 13, the 1995 nail-biter about the almost-doomed 1970 lunar mission. But the real centerpiece is Saturday night’s event, An Evening with Cady Coleman—when the astronaut and Shelburne local will present slides and video taken during her space missions, discuss her six months aboard the International Space Station, and take audience questions. How many local theaters can offer that?

Jack Brown can be reached at

Author: Jack Brown

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