Indie Theaters Get Ready for '1984' Trump Protest Screenings

Courtesy of Photofest
John Hurt in the film adaptation of '1984.'

"When you think about threats to democracy, threats to personal liberty, '1984' is one of those key texts that you refer to," said UCLA Film and Television Archive programmer Paul Malcolm.

On April 4, independent theaters across the country will screen 1984, the dystopian drama based on the best-selling 1949 novel by British author George Orwell. 

Over 90 theaters have agreed to screen the film, a coordinated effort by the Art House Convergence and United State of Cinema organizations, which "encourages theaters to take a stand for our most basic values: freedom of speech, respect for our fellow human beings and the simple truth that there are no such things as 'alternative facts.'"

In Los Angeles, two theaters are slated to participate in the protest screening of the film: the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum, which is also home to UCLA's Film and Television archive, and the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre in West Hollywood.

"The first email went out in February," Paul Malcolm, programmer for the UCLA Film and Television Archive, told The Hollywood Reporter of plans to screen the film. "One of the things that we did was check our collection to see if we had a print here. [We] found out that we had a 35mm print of 1984, which just made it that much more interesting for us to participate."

Hadrian Belove, co-founder of Cinefamily, framed the showing as part of a larger set of themed screenings. 

 "We're doing it as part of our 'Fight the Power' series," Belove said. "So when this idea came up, it really felt like nationwide everyone was having an urge to watch films that really engaged them in the head space we're all at right now." 

Moviegoers planning to attend the free screening at Belove's theater are asked to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union upon making their reservations. 

The plot of both the novel and film, which stars the late John Hurt, follows Winston Smith, a propagandist who rewrites history to align with the current political power's party line, as he falls in love with a member of the resistance (Suzanna Hamilton) to the oppressive English Socialism (Ingsoc) party led by the ominous Big Brother. 

"I think George Orwell and the book itself are so emblematic and iconic of the dangers a dictatorship could pose. When you think about threats to democracy, threats to personal liberty, 1984 is one of those key texts that you refer to in order to describe what that threat even is," Malcolm said.

The film, released the same year as its setting, was not a box-office success when it first hit theaters in 1984. Directed by Michael Radford, who had only one feature-length credit on his résumé before helming the project, the film only grossed $8 million in its initial run. Orwell's novel had previously been adapted for the big screen by director Michael Anderson in 1956, and a new version was in development at one point at Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment in 2012.

"It's kind of chilling seeing and realizing how our contemporary situation has completely outstripped a lot of the dangers that Orwell presents," Malcom said of the dystopian storyline. "Winston's job is to rewrite newspaper headlines and articles so that they fit the current political line, and there's no need to even go back and rewrite newspapers anymore because we're now seeing competing realities simultaneously on different television channels, different Twitter feeds and different webpages."

Orwell's novel experienced a spike in sales following President Trump's counselor Kellyanne Conway's now infamous "alternative facts" comment in an interview with CNN's Chuck Todd. 

The screenings also come in the wake of the recently proposed budget from the Trump administration that would significantly cut funding to the National Endowment of the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities grants that fund much of what the UCLA archive does.

"Thematically, the event was structured around bringing an awareness to, specifically, the threat and challenges the Trump administration presents to NEA and NEH funding," said Malcolm.

"The issues we're selecting, I feel are, or should be, nonpartisan," said Belove.

Cinefamily also has plans to continue its politically charged "Fight the Power" screenings. "It keeps growing. It's a series that's going to be ongoing for quite some time," Belove told THR. "As we've come to the end of our first batch of films, I'm feeling like this is something that we should just keep doing."

Speaking as to why 1984 was a particularly relevant film for the current political climate, Malcolm said, "It's chilling to feel like without even trying we've already undermined our relationship with the truth that in the film they put so much effort into undermining."

When asked if they anticipated any opposition from those on the other side of the political aisle, Malcolm and Belove shared the same sentiment. "I don't know if there's anything to resist," said Belove. "We're not attacking any candidates, and we're not saying this is a protest rally. We're just talking about the spirit of protesting." 

"I don't know who the other side would be," Malcolm noted. 

Both theaters will hold free screenings of the film at 7:30 p.m. PT on April 4. 

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