In the year and a half since Easthampton’s Popcorn Noir opened its doors, the underdog theater—which operates on an innovative subscription model that lets it screen films without charging an admission fee—has emerged as a success story in a time when the industry has seen more than its share of theaters going dark. And not only has the theater managed to keep audiences interested with a wide variety of screenings, they have already built on their early success, adding a restaurant and bar to their Cottage Street location. But with a name like Popcorn Noir, film must remain at the core of what they do; this week provides a reminder of some of that work.
On Thursday, April 25 at 7 p.m. the theater presents Habanastation, the 2012 Academy Award submission from Cuba, as part of the inaugural Current Cuban Films Festival. Featuring work from Cuba and the Cuban Film Institute, the festival offers the first area screenings for a variety of new films over four weeks from April to May. To add to the atmosphere, the cinema’s table-service menu features Cuban-inspired dishes and cocktails for filmgoers to enjoy during the film.
And about that film: Ian Padrón’s tightly paced story tells the tale of 12-year-old Mayito, the son of a well-known jazz musician. With his every need met at home, the young boy has little sense of the privation experienced by so many boys his age. But when he gets on the wrong bus after a school assembly, he finds himself deposited in the impoverished neighborhood that his classmate Carlos calls home. Struck by the differences in their lives—while Mayito’s dad brings him a new PlayStation, Carlos cleans and sells empty beer bottles to save up for a kite—Mayito finds himself wanting to learn more about how the other half lives. Accompanying the main film is a screening of the 1967 picture For The First Time, a documentary look at a group of campesinos experiencing motion pictures for the first time.
And on Saturday, April 27, the cinema hosts the Silver Screen & Staged Sound Spectacle. The multimedia event made up of found films, home movies, and more, each segment of which is 10 minutes or less, is presented with a live soundtrack. Designed as an experiment in community engagement and as a way to bolster creativity, the Spectacle may be expanded to a quarterly occurrence if it catches on. But even if it ends up a one-off, help from performers like Erin McKeown and Guy Benoit promises to make it, as its organizers suggest, “better than watching TV at home alone.”
Also this week: Amherst Cinema brings in the remarkable Caesar Must Die, a moving piece on the power of drama from directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, two brothers in their 80s who have been making their personal and deeply felt movies since the 1960s. Their latest award winner is a drama-within-a-drama set in Rome’s Rebibbia Prison, where the inmates—a crew of hard criminals, some of whom, as the subtitles remind us, are serving “life meaning life” sentences—are mounting a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
After the roles are set (in a surprisingly competitive casting process) the actors begin exploring the work, and something magical happens. These men, whose lives have been defined by hardness, open up as they start to find links to their own experiences—of brotherhood and betrayal, of violence and vengeance—in the text. The Tavianis give their actors a lushly professional treatment, photographing the play rehearsals in the beautiful decay of the prison with all the richness the subject deserves. And as we watch these men wrestle with their demons—both their own and those that have been bred by the close quarters of prison life—we realize how dramatic a drama can be.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.