This is one of those weeks where most every significant organization or venue in the greater Savannah area that regularly or just occasionally presents alternatives to run-of-the-mill big-screen fare has something notable to offer. From local DIY nonprofit endeavors like the Psychotronic Film Society and CinemaSavannah, to restored, historic movie theaters like the Lucas and the Tybee Post, to the Southside’s corporate-owned Regal Stadium 10 multiplex (which routinely hosts special engagements of high-def digital programming), something out of the ordinary can be found most anywhere you look.
MercyMe frontman’s story
May 3 is a busy evening. As mentioned in last week’s Film Scene column, the Tybee Post Theater opens a special, three-day engagement of “I Can Only Imagine,” a new indie feature based on the hit song of the same name by superstar Christian rock band MercyMe. That song was itself based on the life of the group’s frontman, whose father passed away after a battle with cancer.
A tear-jerking inspirational drama aimed squarely at the devout, it stars the beloved Cloris Leachman, Dennis “The Sane One” Quaid and country music singer-songwriter Trace Adkins. It will screen at 7 p.m. May 3, 4 and 6, with a single matinee show at 3 p.m. that last day. Admission prices to all Film Scene events can be found in the accompanying sidebar listings.
May 3 also finds the Regal Stadium 10 aiming for the church crowd, as that’s the final day they’ll screen the new low-budget Christian-themed family drama “Like Arrows,” which aims to assist and inspire parents of rebellious children to raise and counsel them in a manner which purports to follow the teachings of the scripture. 7 p.m. showtime.
On May 5 at the Lucas Theatre, SCAD professor of film and TV Michael Chaney will introduce the 2018 touring edition of the esteemed Black Maria Film Fest, as he has done annually for well over a decade now. One of the most prestigious festivals of its type in the world, the Black Maria is a showcase for the very best short films (10 minutes long or less) from across the globe in the widest variety of styles and genres imaginable. Dramas, documentaries, experimental animation and virtually everything in between can be found in this 90- to 120-minute compilation of winning entries from this year’s New Jersey-based festival.
Chaney, an experimental filmmaker himself, has a hand in helping to select the specific shorts included in that night’s show, which means this exact grouping will not be shown anywhere else along the lengthy tour. The Black Maria is reliably one of the coolest and most unpredictable film-related events in Savannah, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Plus, admission is free to anyone with a valid SCAD ID and only $5 to the general public. Don’t you dare miss it! 7 p.m. showtime.
Heading back out to the Southside, Fathom Events has two more special shows on tap for the Regal Stadium 10 this week. First is the May 6 matinee of “The Boxcar Children — Surprise Island,” which is billed as an “after-school event.”
This animated flick based on the second in a series of best-selling kids’ books by author Gertrude Chandler, it deals with a family of children whose summertime visit on their grandfather’s private island takes a mysterious turn with the arrival of a kind but peculiar stranger. Big-name actors Martin Sheen and J.K. Simmons provide some of the voice talent for this family-oriented program, followed by an educational short on the animation process used to create the film. Showtime is 4 p.m.
House of Hufflepuff
On May 9, the Regal will screen a brand-new high-def documentary of the copyright-thwarting Off-Broadway stage play known as “Puffs” aka “Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic.” A completely unauthorized take on the “Harry Potter” universe, it tracks the same seven-year span the world-famous literary character spent studying magic at the fictional Hogwarts Academy, but this play is written from the very different perspective of students in the school’s House of Hufflepuff, which, to put it charitably, might be described as hard-working, well-intentioned underachievers.
Filled with a fast-paced barrage of ultra-inside jokes, references and send-ups of actual incidents from the “Potter” books and movies, this clever piece of nerd-culture satire has won legions of fans. It is overdue for the higher profile a digital cinema broadcast can bring. However, if you’re not way into “Harry Potter,” you may want to sit this one out. 7 p.m. showtime.
Cinema Circle anime
On May 9 at the Lucas, SCAD’s Cinema Circle will present one of the most universally acclaimed animated features ever made: award-winning Japanese writer-director Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 classic of hand-drawn anime, “Spirited Away.”
This emotionally affecting fantasy about a mother, father and young girl who wind up trapped in a bizarre spirit realm from which they must try and escape is the single most successful Japanese film in history, and notably won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. For this special one-night-only screening, SCAD will present the English-language version of “Spirited Away,” as opposed to the original Japanese-language version with English subtitles. They are opting for the spoken English print because they want folks to feel comfortable bringing their young children, who may have a hard time keeping up with reading subtitles.
As I do from time to time at Cinema Circle events, I’ll be introducing this beautiful and adorable film, and leading the discussion afterward. So, please consider attending — especially if you’ve never had a chance to enjoy this legitimate classic of foreign filmmaking. 8 p.m. showtime.
‘A Fantastic Woman’
A few days earlier, on May 6 at the Jewish Educational Alliance, CinemaSavannah scores something of a minor coup by arranging for an exclusive one-show-only afternoon engagement of this year’s Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, the intense Chilean melodrama “A Fantastic Woman,” which has not yet been released on DVD or via online streaming. This is a very unusual “get” for this organization, as its distributor, Sony Pictures Classics, steadfastly refuses to allow any venue that is not a bona fide “movie theater” to show their titles until they have been made available for retail purchase. When that happens, it’s significantly more difficult to convince anyone to buy a ticket to a DIY screening in a non-traditional venue, such as the JEA.
However, in this case, they seem to have made an exception. “A Fantastic Woman” gathered more than a dozen major awards worldwide. It is the tale of a transgender performer named Marina whose male lover dies unexpectedly, leaving her in an infuriatingly difficult situation where she must deal with her grief in the face of a dispiriting combination of prejudicial discrimination and emotional abuse. Starring the openly transgender actress Daniela Vega in what has been termed by Rolling Stone magazine as a “performance of surpassing beauty and tenderness,” it’s said to be a nuanced and deeply moving film with strong political undertones. Showtime is 4 p.m., and admission is cash only at the door. In Spanish with English subtitles.
And last, but not least, the Psychotronic Film Society’s ongoing weekly series of underappreciated and/or marginalized features from around the world continues May 9 at The Sentient Bean with an incredibly rare public viewing of the late, great, British director Alan Clarke’s (“Scum,” “Made In Britain”) little-known 1981 mind-control drama “Psy-Warriors.”
Made for the BBC, this stark, minimalist adaptation of the provocative stage play of the same name by award-winning playwright and director David Leland focuses on a small group of prisoners, jailed on suspicion of being terrorist members of the Irish Republican Army and held in solitary confinement.
Long before the world was shocked by the U.S. government’s abuse of Iraq war prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Clarke’s disturbing film accurately depicted the very real (and often sadistic) behavior used at that time by British military specialists to question and “break” suspected terrorists in hopes of foiling future bombing attacks in the U.K. It’s an unflinching look at the lengths law enforcement will often go to degrade and torture prisoners when those in control believe their actions are morally justified.
Never shown or released in the U.S. and exceedingly rare even in its country of origin, “Psy-Warriors” is remembered by those Brits who saw its original 1981 TV broadcast as a rather shocking and eye-opening indictment of such “enhanced interrogation” techniques. 8 p.m. showtime.
Until next issue, see you at the movies, be kind to those around you and don't forget to turn off that cell phone.
Jim Reed directs the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah.