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By resident film historian and your host, Liz McLeod.

Why, in this day and age, would anyone want to go to a movie?

You can see anything you want online, right? On your computer, on your laptop, on your smartphone, no doubt before you know it you’ll be able to see anything you want thru a microchip screen tattooed directly onto your eyeball and wired directly into your cerebral cortex. So why bother to spend time and money sitting in a big, dark room surrounded by random strangers when you can get all the entertainment you could ever want sitting in a little dark room all by yourself alone?

The question answers itself, really. As much as the prophets of the digital millenium preach the joys of “connectivity,”  there’s still something irreplaceable about the shared experience. It’s hard wired into us as human beings. Those of us old enough to remember three channels and a pair of rabbit ears remember gathering around the television set with friends and family. Those a bit older remember the radio as the shared focal point of mass experience. And so on, back thru the decades, back thru the centuries, people have gathered together to share their entertainment, all the way back to prehistoric man gathered around the campfire to share stories of The Hunt. Mass entertainment has never been a solo experience – and it still isn’t. Even the most hardened member of the You Tube/Hulu/Netflix/Whatever The Next Hot New Thing Is generation has a desperate need to share their experience – hence the endless comments posted beneath every bootlegged movie clip, every grainy video of teenagers shooting a potato out the end of a PVC pipe. Shared entertainment is in our blood, and it always will be.

And the movies are the ideal form for that entertainment to take. For over a century now, people have been gathering in dark rooms to look up at larger-than-life images, larger-than-life scenes, larger-than-life stories. The visual vocabulary of film, the endless progression of closeups, medium shots, pan shots, and distance shots, is keyed to the Big Screen, not those little flickering LCD rectangles you cup in the palm of your hand. Even the biggest of big-screen TV sets can’t fully translate the message the director is trying to send. You need a screen measured in feet, not inches, to fully accomplish that. You need to be enveloped by those images to fully disappear into the story they tell.  

And you need to share that experience, that sense of being sucked into the story, with others at the same time. You need, on a subconscious level, to know there are others who are experiencing, at the same moment, the same emotions, the same sensations, the same adventures as you.

You need to go to the movies. Why not go tonight?

With award season fast approaching, Strand staffers have mined the the Academy’s shortlist of the 15 best Documentary Films of 2012 to present a special program of the year’s finest nonfiction filmmaking on Sundays in January and February, beginning Sunday, January 6 at 3:30pm with Chasing Ice.

From well-known titles to new discoveries, there’s certain to be something for everyone—doc enthusiasts or not—on the Strand’s Short List. Chasing Ice is the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. In 2005, photographer James Balog conceived the boldest expedition of his life: The Extreme Ice Survey. With a band of young adventurers in tow, Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers.

January 13 at 3:30pm, Ken Burns’ The Central Park Five is featured. In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers were arrested and charged for brutally attacking and raping a white female jogger in Central Park. News media swarmed the case, calling it "the crime of the century." But the truth about what really happened didn't become clear until after the five had spent years in prison for a crime they didn't commit. With The Central Park Five, this story of injustice finally gets the telling it deserves.

The House I Live In (January 20 at 3:30pm) captures heart-wrenching stories from individuals at all levels of America’s War on Drugs. From the dealer to the grieving mother, the narcotics officer to the senator, the inmate to the federal judge, the film offers a penetrating look inside  America’s longest war—a definitive portrait revealing its profound human rights implications.

January 27 at 3:30pm, How to Survive A Plague chronicles an improbable group of young people who, faced with their own mortality, broke the mold as radical warriors taking on Washington and the medical establishment. This film is the story of two coalitions—ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group)—whose activism turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.  With unfettered access to a trove of never-before-seen archival footage from the 1980s and '90s, filmmaker David France puts the viewer smack in the middle of the controversial actions, the heartbreaking failures, and the exultant breakthroughs of heroes in the making. Co-presented with the Camden International Film Festival.

The Waiting Room (February 3 at 3:30pm) is a character-driven documentary film that uses extraordinary access to go behind the doors of an American public hospital struggling to care for a community of largely uninsured patients. The film - using a blend of cinema verité and characters' voiceover offers a raw, intimate, and even uplifting look at how patients, staff and caregivers each cope with disease, bureaucracy and hard choices. The ER waiting room serves as the grounding point for the film, capturing in vivid detail what it means for millions of Americans to live without health insurance. Young victims of gun violence take their turn alongside artists and small business owners who lack insurance. Steel workers, taxi cab drivers and international asylum seekers crowd the halls. The film weaves the stories of several patients – as well as the hospital staff charged with caring for them – as they cope with the complexity of the nation’s public health care system, while weathering the storm of a national recession. Co-presented by the Camden International Film Festival, The Waiting Room lays bare the struggle and determination of both a community and an institution coping with limited resources and no road map for navigating a health care landscape marked by historic economic and political dysfunction. It is a film about one hospital, its multifaceted community, and how our common vulnerability to illness binds us together as humans.

The series concludes Sunday, February 17 at 3:30pm with Detropia. Detroit's story has encapsulated the iconic narrative of America over the last century— the Great Migration of African Americans escaping Jim Crow; the rise of manufacturing and the middle class; the love affair with automobiles; the flowering of the American dream; and now . . . the collapse of the economy and the fading American mythos. With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, Detropia sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. These soulful pragmatists and stalwart philosophers strive to make ends meet and make sense of it all, refusing to abandon hope or resistance. Their grit and pluck embody the spirit of the Motor City as it struggles to survive postindustrial America and begins to envision a radically different future.

Strand audiences will have time to take in this Short List program just in time to the Academy Awards!

The Strand is kicking off a new series of music documentary films with Big Easy Express, featuring the music of Mumford & Sons, Saturday, December 29 at 8pm.

Inspired by the popularity of a recent screening of “Searching for Sugar Man,” documenting the music of Mexican-American singer/songwriter Rodriguez, the Strand’s new film series will draw from a range of music genres.

Big Easy Express takes us cross-country with indie folk heroes Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Tennessee’s Old Crow Medicine Show, and Britain’s acclaimed Mumford & Sons: “3 bands, 6 cities, 1 train, and thousands of miles of track…” Renowned filmmaker Emmett Malloy (The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights) documents their cinematic musical journey as they board a vintage train in California, setting out for New Orleans, Louisiana on a “tour of dreams”.

Part road movie and part concert film, Big Easy Express bears witness to the birth of a new musical era. With poignancy and beauty, Malloy documents these incredible musicians as they ride the rails and wow the crowds, from Oakland… to New Orleans. So climb on board for a vibrant, raucous railway adventure. Filled with joyous crowds, late night laughter, endless music…and a train that was bound for glory.

The Strand’s music doc series continues January 18 with a screening of The Rolling Stones: Charlie is My Darling, Ireland 1965, with more films to be slated for Feb and March.

The Sweetback Sisters return to the Strand Theatre Friday, December 7 at 7:30pm, with their annual Country Christmas Sing-Along Spectacular. This wide-ranging program of holiday music includes well-loved Christmas carols and classic winter-themed songs along with lesser-known country gems. Lyric sheets are provided so that everyone can join in the singing.

All the songs are presented with the Sweetback Sisters' signature mix of harmony singing, rollicking telecaster and twin fiddling along with a healthy dose of holiday cheer. The Sweetbacks will bring along their brand-new, much-anticipated Christmas album, featuring many of the songs presented in the program.

“Sisters” Emily Miller and Zara Bode may not be blood relations, but their precise, family-style harmonies recall the best of country music from the Everlys to The Judds, as well as the spirited rockabilly energy of Wanda Jackson, one of the band’s role models. Like the artists they admire, the Sweetbacks are concerned with the traditional subjects of heartbreak, revenge, remorse and staying strong in the face of relationships gone wrong, albeit with a contemporary sensibility. “We’re a renegade retro band that mixes up country, swing and honky tonk,” explains Bode. “Sometimes what we deliver is straight out of the 50s; other times it’s BR549 meets The B52s.”

Sweetback Sisters have toured extensively since the release of their 2009 album Chicken Ain’t Chicken. Their new CD, Looking For A Fight showcases the band’s razor sharp musicianship, complex arrangements and growing confidence as songwriters.

Tickets: $12. General admission, all ages.

The Strand presents a special HD event, BARRYMORE, Saturday, November 17 at 2:30pm. Christopher Plummer stars in an unforgettable portrayal of legendary actor John Barrymore, a man of colossal talent and contradictions and one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of all time.

The year is 1942, what will be the final year of Barrymore's life. No longer a leading box office star, the film finds the actor reckoning with the ravages of his life of excess. He has rented a grand old theatre to rehearse for a backer’s audition to raise money for a revival of his 1920 Broadway triumph in Richard III. It leads him to look back on the highs and lows of his stunning career and remarkable life.

Backstage with Barrymore is a documentary film about the re-creation of an incredible piece of theatre history. Cameras were rolling as Plummer and the production team prepared Barrymore for the stage of Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. The film offers complete access to the entire process, interviews with the people responsible for this epic adventure in theatre and film, and includes interviews with Plummer’s favorite leading ladies: Julie Andrews, Helen Mirren and Zoe Caldwell.

Mary Black, widely regarded as Ireland’s premier female vocalist, performs live at the Strand Friday November 9 at 7:30pm, as part of a 10-city U.S. tour.

On her first visit to the U.S. in two years, Black will perform material from her newest album, Stories from Steeples, her first studio recording in six years, as well as many of the great songs that she has made popular throughout her career. Joining her is special guest Róisín O, a gifted young singer/songwriter who is one of the rising stars on Dublin’s vibrant pop music scene.

Black has been at the forefront of Irish music for more than 25 years, recording dozens of albums. Her breakthrough No Frontiers in 1989, featuring the haunting track “Columbus,” brought her rich, clear voice and gift for storytelling to the attention of U.S. audiences for the first time.

With her ear for emerging songwriters, Black has never hesitated to introduce a new talent, share a spotlight or credit as the impressive roster of singers, musicians and songwriters that populate her impressive catalog of recordings. Proof of that too is the billing accorded newcomer Róisín O, who has also supported dates with The Coronas, Imelda May, Brad Paisley and Robert Cray, recorded with Paul Brady.

Tickets: $45. The Strand’s Fall Live Concert Series, sponsored by Maine Magazine continues November 14 with Arlo Guthrie live. Tickets are on sale now. All seating is general admission.

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