CinemaDope: Pyramid Scheme

In the new documentary A Place At The Table, actor Jeff Bridges reframes hunger as an issue of national pride as much as one of health. “It’s about patriotism, really,” he suggests. “How do you envision your country? Do you envision it as a country where one in four of the kids are hungry?”

It’s a simple turn of phrase, but an important distinction in a time when many Americans are struggling to put food—never mind healthy food—on the table. The issue, Bridges suggests, isn’t just a family issue, but one that affects our national future.

This Thursday, a group of like-minded souls band together to present the film as part of a larger panel discussion at Amherst Cinema. In it, directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush explore the issue by focusing on three stories of “food insecurity”: single mom Barbie, trying to raise two kids in Philadelphia; Tremonica, a young Mississippi girl whose poor diet worsens her already fragile health; and fifth-grader Rosie, who depends largely on the kindness of friends and neighbors for her meager diet. Their stories are illuminated by the commentary of activists and nutrition experts, as well as input from Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who recently delivered a speech on hunger to Congress.

McGovern will be on hand to discuss the film and the issues it raises; joining him will be UMass-Amherst Professor Julie Caswell and Andrew Morehouse of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

The idea is, at its heart, a simple one: that we as a nation should make access to nutritious, affordable food as inalienable a right as the right to vote, and that not doing so will have far-reaching implications for our cultural and economic future as a country. As it stands, that idea is at odds with some of our other American impulses—namely, the drive for another dollar—but the film suggests that, for our own good, we may at some point in our lives (or our children’s lives) have to trade one kind of green for another.

Also at Amherst this week is Castle In The Sky, the second entry in the cinema’s ongoing Hayao Miyazaki film festival. Screening Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening, this 1986 film—one of Miyazaki’s that’s not often seen on screen anymore—is the story of Pazu and Sheeta, he a young earth-dweller and she a young woman who quite literally falls into Pazu’s life when she tumbles out of the sky holding a strange crystal amulet. Together the pair search for a floating island hidden in the clouds, the home of an ancient civilization whose secrets promise unimaginable power to those cunning enough to find their way there. Standing in their way is a gang of pirates looking to seize Sheeta’s amulet and its mysterious power.


Fans of the movie musical got a treat this past Oscar season with the buzz around Les Miserables, but now that the hubbub has died down, the time is ripe to revisit one of our earlier musical success stories. As part of its Classic Series, Cinemark theater will screen West Side Story twice this Wednesday, at 2 and 7 p.m. Starring Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno, this modern-day take on Romeo and Juliet has two New York street gangs—the Sharks and the Jets—competing for turf on the Upper West Side. Things get even more tense when a romantic spark jumps between a gang member and his rival’s sister. To settle their differences, the warring gangs resort to that most violent of weapons: jazz hands.


Also this week: After a sellout crowd made last year’s event such a success, you’d be well advised to grab your tickets early for Screen Test 2: Movie Trivia Madness. Taking place on Sunday, March 10 at 3 p.m. at Northampton’s Academy of Music, the annual event is the signature fundraiser of Amherst Cinema—it raised some $15,000 for the theater last year—and a chance for every local movie nut to test his or her film knowledge against some of the area’s best-known cinephiles.

Hosted again by man-about-town (and former Pleasant Street Video staffer) Bill Dwight—with a little help from humorist John Hodgman—the contest features two dozen teams of three competing for prizes and (more importantly) bragging rights as they try to unseat reigning champions The Mister DeMilles. Questions will cover the gamut of filmdom, from famous lines and film scores to adaptations and Oscar trivia. And if you’re too late to form a team of your own, you can still get in on the action as a member of the audience; tickets are $10 and going fast.•

Jack Brown can be reached at

Author: Jack Brown

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