Lot 60, Montclair State University,
35 Cloud Road, Little Falls
Venue opens at 7 p.m.
• Monday, June 15: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
• Saturday, June 13: “Sing”
• Sunday, June 14: “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” followed by a prerecorded Q&A with filmmaker Dawn Porter
Future Carpool Theater screenings are being planned for July and August.
By GWEN OREL
Congressman John Lewis has stage four pancreatic cancer.
He’s watched the attempted dismantling of the Voting Rights Act — an act for which he nearly lost his life, when he was beaten by armed police on the Edmund Pettus bridge on the 1965 march to Selma, on a day that became known as Bloody Sunday.
But Lewis makes space in his life for art and music and dancing and jokes, says Dawn Porter, director of the new documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble.”
The film will make its world premiere this Sunday, June 14, as part of Carpool Theater, a three-movie, three-day drive-in collaboration between Montclair Film and Montclair State University.
“If he doesn’t give up, then I think the rest of us can hang in there, too,” Porter said.
Porter, a former Montclairian and acclaimed filmmaker (“Gideon’s Army,” “Bobby Kennedy for President”), followed the Democratic congressman from Georgia for a year.
Keeping up with Lewis was the most challenging thing, she said with a laugh.
The movie also retells Lewis’ history as a student activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“The film shows us the days and months before the summer of the bridge, and how he trained as a young activist,” Porter said. “And how his career progressed from outside of the halls of power and being an agitator, to being inside the halls of power and being a congressman for the last two decades.
“We kind of thought the protests of this sort were very rare. Now, there’s a need to study protest movements.”
“John Lewis: Good Trouble” was to have premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, before coming to the Montclair Film Festival. Both of those festivals were postponed, so this weekend will be the movie’s world premiere.
It will stream on online platforms beginning July 3.
MAKING A DRIVE-IN
The MF/MSU Carpool Theater program came together very quickly (and sold out quickly, too, within 26 hours. Future future weekends are planned).
Montclair Film began exploring the idea of a drive-in a few weeks ago, said Tom Hall, Montclair Film executive director. “We had to track down vendors, exploring spaces. We reached out to Montclair State University about a week ago. We’ve been working with their facilities team, to get approvals from the police and others for the plan.”
Montclair Film held its first festival, in 2012, at MSU, and has had events, including the “Behind the Screen,” there every year.
Dan Gurskis, dean of the College of the Arts, said that the university approved right away.
“Campus right now, while not technically closed, is a desolate landscape,” he said. “We are constantly looking for opportunities to engage the community. Geographically, we’re in an odd place, up on a hill on the edge of town. People don’t always think to come to campus. Any event that encourages people to come, and serves the community, is part of our mission.”
Hall said that there is a need Carpool Theater fills, adding that MF has had many people asking, “Are you doing a drive-in, when are you doing a drive-in?”
“We didn’t get to do the Montclair Film Festival,” he said. “I miss connecting with the audience and having people come together.”
But Carpool Theater will not make money: For safety reasons, the event can only hold 100 cars. And even though MSU is waiving whatever fees it can, MF still needs to pay to show the films. Hall described it as a “loss leader.”
But have people actually ever been to drive-in movies?
“Oh baby, yes,” Porter said. The San Francisco resident will not be in Montclair this weekend except virtually, but wishes she could be.
“My Mom would put us in pajamas,” she recalled. “And then take us, which was fine until you realized you wanted to go in and get snacks. And the teenagers were in there, and you’re in your footie pajamas, which was not very cool, but it was super fun.”
At MSU this weekend, viewers will bring their own food, for COVID-19 safety. There will be
porta-potties with strict social distancing. Sound will be provided by an FM channel in the car or by Bluetooth. To hear the sound, people must keep their cars running.
Hall said that people will not be able to watch the movie with the car on battery only, because the battery would die — something he has experienced at the drive-in.
Gurskis grew up seeing drive-in movies in Berlin, Conn. (pronounced BERlin, he stressed). “We would all load into the car,” he said. Sometimes he would sneak friends in, in the trunk, he said, giggling.
During a time of unrest, some entertainment organizations have canceled or postponed events.
The idea of not showing films never occurred to Hall.
“We’re very cognizant of what’s going on in the world both from a philosophical and intellectual and also a practical perspective,” he said. “I do think the general level of unhappiness right now, and the concern and rage, requires some consideration.”
With MF’s “Discovering Together Online” program, people have been discussing how events are impacting their lives. Watching movies can help people cope emotionally and socially, Hall said, adding, “Comedy is often overlooked as a form that can teach empathy and understanding.”
Porter hopes her film will leave people feeling inspired. She finished the film before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and before the death of George Floyd.
“I think that the movie resonates even more deeply with me,” she said. “A lot of change has happened, and I think right now, we’re in such despair, we tend to forget how different things are. Which doesn’t mean there’s not room for more change. My respect for the congressman has only deepened. You see how prescient his path was. And you know his central message of non-violence is the most powerful path to organizational change.”