photo courtesy of criterion
Charlie CHaplin in The Circus
Even for longtime locals, organizations like the Northampton Arts Council can be easy to overlook. Those of us lucky enough to live in “artsy” towns find ourselves surrounded by a seemingly endless array of events—film and music festivals, food fairs, variety shows—that appear to come almost out of the ether. They don’t, of course. Even in a town that has more than its fair share of privately owned venues, there will always be a need for groups like the NAC.
For over three decades now, the all-volunteer board (appointed by the mayor) has worked with the Massachusetts Cultural Council to allocate grant money in support of community arts and artists. But the local council also does something not a lot of others do—each year, they fundraise for a second round of arts funding to help keep the area flush with culture, providing us with events like the annual Transperformance and Four Sundays in February series. In short: it’s a group worth supporting. This week, local filmgoers have a chance to do just that.
KidsBestFest is the opportunity. Dedicated to presenting overlooked and foreign films for kids, the annual event unfolds over the course of the week, with most screenings at Northampton’s Academy of Music. This year, though, the series teams up with Amherst Cinema, which will complement the main showings with a daily 2 p.m. screening of classic Bugs Bunny cartoons. Amazingly, tickets for any given show are only $3 each at either theater, making it a great way to take the family out for a matinee.
Over at the Academy, things get underway on Monday with Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 film The Circus. Chaplin stars in his classic “Little Tramp” role, here on the run from the police. Hiding out in a down-at-the-heels traveling circus, Charlie becomes an unintentional star when his accidental interruption of a clown act gets the crowd roaring. An Oscar winner when it was released, Chaplin rescored the film with his own music for a 1970 reissue, giving viewers a chance to hear him singing over the opening scenes.
Following that is a more modern classic: Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers. The second installment (and like Chaplin, an Oscar winner) in the much loved claymation franchise follows eccentric inventor Wallace and his much wiser dog Gromit as they get wrapped up in a jewel heist involving some electronic pants and an underhanded penguin.
On Tuesday, Tales of The Night takes over the screen. The first 3D feature from French animator Michel Ocelot, the film threads together six stories that take place everywhere from Tibet to the African plains. Populated with sorcerers, dragons, and werewolves (and gigantic, talking bees), Ocelot’s world is brought to life in a style all his own, with silhouetted characters and richly colored kaleidoscopic backgrounds. Not very well known Stateside—the nudity that ran through his first hit film made him a controversial director here—his work nevertheless deserves to be seen more often.
And finally, Wednesday brings in The Great Bear, Esben Toft Jacobsen’s debut feature. It tells the story of 11-year-old Jonathan, whose kid sister Sophie tags along on his yearly vacation to visit their grandfather. But while Jonathan is busy trying to avoid his sibling, she is kidnapped by a gigantic, 1,000-year-old bear, one of the mythical creatures that live in the forest surrounding their grandfather’s home. To make things right and save his sister, Jonathan must venture into the forest to face the animals within.•
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.