Notes From The Program Director | Week of April 14th, 2023

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Notes From The Program Director

Week of April 14th, 2023

Melissa Tamminga

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Hello, friends!

Pickford audiences have spoken once again, and love for Irish films wins, so The Quiet Girl and Roise and Frank stick around for another week! And leading up to Earth Day, we’ve also got two brilliant new films, each with an environmentally-aware conscience, hitting our screens: How to Blow Up a Pipeline and Geographies of Solitude. 

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is based on the well-known non-fiction book, How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire by Andreas Malm, where Malm argues for property sabotage as a rational form of climate activism. But I had no idea what to expect going into the film, a fictional film taking its inspiration, rather than a storyline, from the book. It turns out that may have been the very best way to see it, for I was on the edge of my seat from almost the word “go.” As such, I was forcefully reminded of just how rare a truly taut, gripping thriller is these days; I can't think of the last time I saw a really good dramatic thriller that was not also a horror-crossover. So this film, as a political crime thriller, is a uniquely invigorating treat, and Matt Zoller Seitz, in fact, in his rave review of the film for Ebert dot com, notes that the film has some fascinating overlaps with and allusions to the very best thrillers of peak 1970’s and 80’s cinema, films like Michael Mann’s Thief and William Friedkin’s Sorcerer.

As How to Blow Up a Pipeline begins, we're immediately thrown into the action: a rag-tag group of mostly 20-somethings setting out on the mission indicated by the film title, the details of which beautifully unfold over the course of the film, building to and resulting in an electrifying, increasingly tense, roller coaster of a ride.

The structure of the film, which helps produce the film’s tension, is incredibly smart, and it operates in two modes: 1) the immediate plot--the main action where the characters act on their plan to blow up a pipeline--and 2) intermittent flashbacks that introduce us to each of the characters' backstories.  As the film begins, we don't know who these people are or why they are together, and their intensity is even perhaps initially a little off-putting. But the film's structure -- that action plot interlaced with backstories -- accomplishes two things beautifully: 1) an ever deepening sympathy for each of the characters and 2) an ever growing intensity in the action.  So as the film goes on, we become more and more personally invested in each of the characters and their personal outcomes, and we simultaneously become more and more enmeshed in the action itself, suspense building on suspense.  Alfred Hitchcock once famously noted the key difference between suspense and surprise: “surprise,” he said, is when characters are sitting around a table and a bomb suddenly goes off. As an audience, we jump, but the feeling of shock fades quickly.  “Suspense,” on the other hand, is when we see the bomb planted under the table, a bomb the characters don’t know anything about, and we wait and wait for the bomb to go off, knowing how much danger the characters are in. The best suspense, then, something Hitchcock truly mastered and this film revels in, is a sustained feeling that increases and increases and makes for the most thrilling of films. In How to Blow Up a Pipeline we are told, at the very beginning, something is going to blow up, and every single action in the film is beautifully infused with that knowledge and carefully structured to enhance it.  

I should also note that there may be some who find the film’s action and ideas controversial: certainly, property sabotage, even if it does not aim to hurt people, feels like an extreme action, perhaps even a “terrorist” action.  The film, however, while clearly sympathetic to our characters, is primarily a thriller, and as such, it is not didactic: it presents the problem of climate change in the context of young adults who are desperate, for both personal and global reasons, to Do Something, but it doesn't necessarily dictate that the best path to fight climate change is sabotage. Maybe, maybe not. We are left to decide.  At the same time, it does not judge the characters for their actions. It is observational, and, as such, invites conversation even while it remains, at heart, simply one of the finest thrillers I’ve seen in years, with a fabulous ensemble cast to boot.

On a completely opposite end of the spectrum is a film like Geographies of Solitude, a truly beautiful film that functions as a celebration of the natural world, while also tapping into an activist spirit, ultimately indicating the natural world is under threat. In terms of its cinematic form though, the film is a work of art: I've never seen anything quite like it. On the surface, it's a documentary about a naturalist and environmentalist, Zoe Lucas, a woman who's lived on her own for 40 years on Sable Island, a tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia, populated only by animals and plants. The movements of her quiet life revolve around the natural rhythms of the world around her: she patiently documents the island’s flora and fauna -- their living and their dying; their daily, monthly, yearly routines -- and she also meticulously documents the things that wash up on shore, the litter and multi-colored plastics that have been floating in the ocean and relentlessly roll in from all over the globe. It's a mesmerizing and peaceful film, gorgeously filmed on 16 mm camera, filled with lush natural imagery, and marked by the quiet quotidian patterns of Lucas's life, but it is also a film that, without any kind of stridency, indicates, with the urgency of those piles and piles of plastics Lucas collects, that the oceans are in peril and that care for the planet is a job not just for Lucas, but for all of us. 

This week, joining How to Blow Up a Pipeline and Geographies of Solitude in their concern for the natural world, we also have an updated Dr. Seuss classic, the 2012 animated film, The Lorax. I grew up with the book and the 1972 25-minute short, loving both of them with every fiber of my being, and so I was initially suspicious of any revision of a beloved story, but this newest version, starring Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, and Danny DeVito, is simply delightful. And most importantly, it preserves the central message from the Lorax, the creature who “speaks for the trees,” a message which is still so crucial today.


The Lorax, the first film in our newest Kid Pickford line-up, screens on Saturday, April 15, 1:30 pm. Tickets, as always for Kid Pickford, are only $5. Stay tuned for more Kid Pickford films in the coming months, films including Shrek, Mitchells vs. the Machines, Trolls, Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda, and School of Rock, and look out for additional Sunday matinee showtimes! 

Free Chol Soo Lee, playing on Wednesday, April 19, 1:00 pm, is the latest film in our free-to-the-public, 60-minute Indie Lens Pop-Up films:  Indie Lens Pop-Up is a neighborhood series that brings people together—virtually and in-person—for film screenings and community-driven conversations. Indie Lens Pop-Up draws local residents, leaders, and organizations to discuss what matters most, from newsworthy topics and social issues, to family and community relationships.”


Free Chol Soo Lee, while following the specific story of one person, piercingly illuminates so many urgent issues we face as a nation, particularly those relative to the justice system and the racism embedded therein. As Ben Kingsinberg wrote in his New York Times review last year, “Free Chol Soo Lee tells the story of a wrongfully convicted man who, after spending nearly a decade in prison, was ultimately vindicated in court. But it isn’t an uplifting movie. As much as it celebrates the exoneration of its subject, a Korean immigrant in California named Chol Soo Lee, this documentary, directed by Julie Ha and Eugene Yi, is concerned with how the consequences of the failure of justice rippled through the rest of his life.” We are invited to reflect not just on Lee’s life, but on the lives of countless others who have been caught in the same unjust system.

Finishing out our film events this week is a modern classic: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. And what better way to celebrate 420 than with Harold and Kumar, who, in 2004, joined the ranks of Cheech and Chong and became two of the most beloved stoners of American pop culture? Breaking Hollywood stereotypes and rejoicing in both weed and friendship, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle remains a film to celebrate, so we’ll have two screenings on April 20, 11:00 am for the wake-and-bake early risers and 9:45 pm for the late night crowd.   

 See you at the movies, friends! 


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Pickford Film Center

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