Wednesday, January 28, 2015

History and Movies at the Ohio Theatre

The old Ohio Theatre, built in 1921, looked stark against a fading sun.   It's red brick facade and inlaid Greek columns were hidden behind scaffolding.  But inside and out, signs of its former glory stood out.  The marquee, a huge stage, the Art Deco decorations, an elegant pipe organ, ghosts of movies past.

I hadn't been to the Ohio Theatre on Lagrange Street since leaving Toledo in 1985.   I remember it as being in the once-vibrant Polish neighborhood of the city, a great gathering place.  The theater is now being restored under the able management of United North, a nonprofit organization.  It seems to have great partners and devoted volunteers.  I was at the theater with my friend Teddy to take in Toledo's first International Film Festival.

I learned that the city and county are helping restore the historic theater, that they have been awarded grants. that local officials and long-time community leaders are working to preserve the building and revitalize the community around it. I learned about the Welcome Toledo-Lucas County Initiative (through a young Americorps volunteer) to build a diverse community that welcomes immigrants and migrants, old-timers and newcomers.  I said hello to Peter Uvagi and his associates. He and Tom Glazer informed the audience of about 100 fans that a new grant would support upgrading the equipment and screen.  I talked to Jan Dzernik, the young man who is the theater manager, the only staff person and an enthusiastic promoter, also supported by a grant.

The films were great! What a positive way to get people into the theater and to promote the cause.  I love International Film Festivals, went to as many as possible in DC, San Miguel, Tampa, wherever I live, wherever I travel.  I've learned so much about cultural diversity, rich and varied cultural traditions, folkways, and different points of view through watching films from around the world. They open a whole new universe, like the Voyager spacecrafts exploring the boundaries of our solar system.  How great that Toledo through the Ohio Theatre are joining in these cultural adventures!

Teddy and I saw two poignant movies: Amreeka and Sin Nombre, both good films if rather sad.

Amreeka, written and directed by Cherien Dabis, a Palestinian-American, tells the story of  Manu, a courageous and determined Palestinian woman (wonderfully played by Nisreen Faour), and her teenage son Fadi (Melkar Muallem), who come to America to escape the harsh living in the West Bank.  It's a story of immigration and adaptation, of struggle and small triumphs. They are welcomed by Manu's sister, who lives with her doctor husband and children in the suburbs of Chicago. They have done well, but now they are facing post-9/11 stereotyping, hostility, and discrimination.  The stress and fear spill over to the new immigrants, and to all Muslims living in America. The film debuted at the Sundance International Film Festival in 2009. It was well received there and at many other film festivals worldwide.

Sin Nombre explores the fateful and deadly crossing of two life journeys: that of a young Chiapas, Mexico, gang member named Willy (El Casper in the gang), whose life is violent and gruesome, and a young Honduran women, Sayra, who seeks to come to America with her father and uncle to join relatives in New Jersey.  Willy's brutal life, in the name of gang loyalty, becomes all the more haunting when the innocent young boy he recruits into the gang becomes a vicious killer. The journey of Sayra and her family is almost as hazardous, including the difficult ride on top of trains, in all kinds of weather and harsh conditions, that cross the border to the US.  The dangers and tragedies of this yearning to get to America, this desparate search for new opportunities, made me think of our current immigration situation and of the people who survive the journey. The human dimension of the stories makes the politics seem cruel. Only Sayra makes it across the border.  The juxtaposition of the immigrant story and the gangster story makes this a powerful film. It too premiered at Sundance in 2009.

The Ohio Theatre pulsed with excitment and appreciation.  I thought it might be great to have some film and discussion programs after the movies.  I look forward to seeing the rest of the films this year, and to welcoming the next International Film Festival.

For more information:
3114 Lagrange St, Toledo, 43608


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