An evening in Northampton has never been boring. Meet your date for a cocktail or a glass of wine, move on to dinner at any number of downtown bites, catch a concert, go to an art opening. Stroll the streets, duck into the renovated Pulaski Park, circle Paradise Pond on the Smith campus. They weren’t kidding when they settled on “walk into something wonderful” as the slogan for downtown.
But get the itch to see a movie, and your options dry up pretty quickly; the town hasn’t had a regular nightly screening for years now — not since Pleasant Street Theater was reborn as an Irish pub. It’s a loss I still hear about from Valley film lovers. And while there have been other places to catch a film now and again (the Northampton Brewery ran a fun Movie Night series last fall that I’d be glad to see return) they’ve often lacked some of the grandeur that comes with seeing a movie on a big screen and with a big crowd.
For that, we’ve been lucky to have Cinema Northampton in the mix. Since 2013, the group has brought free outdoor screenings to downtown and the surrounding area. Founded by Northampton Community Television, it has welcomed the Northampton Arts Council, the Parks and Recreation Department, and others as co-collaborators, and screened films in parks, fields, and lawns all over town, bringing in a new film one Wednesday each month for the summer and early fall (rain dates are always for one week later). And this week it all starts again.
On Wednesday night at sundown (about 8:30pm), the Disney smash Moana comes to town, screening on the lawn of the Forbes Library. The story of an island chieftain’s daughter and her quest to save her people—and to be spunkily girl-powered while doing it — follows Moana as she ventures past the traditional borders of her land to restore harmony to the ocean gods that rule her world. The Little Mermaid meets Brave, Moana is a newer kind of Disney heroine, one that relies less on a prince/knight/ogre and more on her own wits, instincts, and sense of self.
It’s a nice direction to see the lumbering giant try to take. It’s also not without some tone-deaf notes and a fair bit of controversy, though mostly that has been directed at the studio’s treatment of the themes borrowed from the Oceania region: one particularly messy PR snafu centered on their merchandising of Maui, the demigod character voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. After taking the time to bring in Samoan tattoo artist Su’a Peter Sulu’ape to sign off on the authenticity of Maui’s many tattoos, the studio then turned around and began selling a “skin suit” costume printed with those very tattoos. After getting criticized for cultural insensitivity — the costume, the “skin” of which was tinged brown, also included a grass skirt and a bone necklace — Disney pulled the product.
Controversy aside, Moana will likely strike some important chords with a lot of young people, and particularly young girls, and it’s encouraging to see more steps in this direction. And if all you care about is heading out to enjoy a movie on the lawn, that’s okay too. Bring your lawn chairs, your drinks, snacks, bug spray and blankets, and settle in for an evening of simple New England pleasure.
Moana: Wednesday, May 31, 8:30 p.m. Free. Forbes Library lawn, 20 West St., Northampton.
Also this week: if you’ve been slowly pounding your head against the kitchen table when you listen to the news lately, have I got the picture for you. Brazil, directed by Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), is a masterpiece about a dystopian world that is ruled by a bureaucracy designed to quash individualism. Dazzling in its visual design and (sadly) prophetic in its political imagining, Gilliam’s film — it’s the director’s cut that Amherst Cinema will show in its Friday night show — has always been worth another viewing, but now more than ever.
Brazil: Friday, 9:45 p.m. $8.75-$9.75. Amherst Cinema, 28 Amity St., Amherst.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.