Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How Lloyd Kramer Spent His “Midsummer in Newtown”

Playing in Theaters

How Lloyd Kramer Spent His “Midsummer in Newtown”

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 1/28/17)


By Danny Peary

Midsummer in Newtown fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor. Of course, due to the mysterious fire that wiped out several businesses, there no longer is a movie theater in Sag Harbor*, so consider seeing Lloyd Kramer’s stirring documentary when it opens Friday at the Village East Cinema at 12th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan. It opens next week in Los Angeles. If you live elsewhere, keep an eye out for when it plays in your town because you will be touched deeply by this tender film in which joy bests heartbreak.  From the synopsis in the press notes: When Newton, Connecticut was devastated by the loss of 20 first graders and six adults at the hands of a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the world looked on in horror unable to fathom such a tragedy. In [this] emotionally powerful and uplifting documentary, filmmaker Lloyd Kramer gains intimate access to three families who find hope in the transformative power of the arts. Anchoring the film is the story of two Sandy Hook Elementary School students, Tain and Sammy, who join an exuberant cast of Newtown children—bringing healing to their young lives and to their community by staging “A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a freewheeling musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy.
I saw Kramer’s inspiring doc at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, and couldn’t set up an interview with him at the time. Finally, in anticipation of its theatrical release, I recently spoke to the three-time DGA nominee over coffee and omelets at the Washington Square Diner in the West Village.
Danny Peary: According to the press notes, before Midsummer in Newtown was greenlit by Participant Media and Vulcan Production, and even before there was partial financing, Tom Yellin (Cartel), one of your two producers, sent you to Newtown because the kids were about to audition for “A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Lloyd Kramer: Tom knew about the musical because of his friendship in New York City with its director, Michael Unger. We had no funding and that usually takes about a year, but rehearsals were beginning in about three weeks. So I went up there with someone who had a small camera with the intention of filming the auditions. This was at the end of May in 2014, seventeen or eighteen months after the tragedy there.
DP: Were you searching for a project at the time?
LK: In the world of documentary filmmaking, you’re always juggling a few things. I was developing something else but this came along and I was open to it. I thought it was a great story that kids in Newtown were putting on a show after what they’d been through, and the purpose Michael Unger had for directing it. I was told me that putting on a show could have a positive effect on kids in this town, but I wouldn’t be sure unless I was there seeing it happen.
Sammy (right) on opening night.
DP: How did you two feel driving into Newtown for the first time?
LK: We got sort of a chill when we passed the sign that said “Entering Newtown.” The auditions were done at the high school, but we happened to drive by Sandy Hook Elementary School. It’s by the firehouse where many of the kids fled that day and the driveway was blocked off. It was amazing how we could feel the aftermath.
DP: Perhaps your first reaction when seeing Newtown for the first time is reflected in the opening of your movie when we see the pretty blue sky and white clouds above Newtown. An outsider might imagine there always being gloomy dark skies above Newtown since the tragedy.
LK: Yeah. It’s like, what could go wrong? It’s a beautiful day yet what happened will always be in the ether.
DP: Did you feel like an intruder when you first arrived?
LK: Yes. To some extent I never got over that. I was always very conscious of what happened to the people in Newtown and always very respectful.
DP: How many kids were at the auditions?
LK: About 200. I wasn’t sure what we had here, just that I was taken with these great, precocious kids who really seemed to believe in what they were doing.
Tain Gregory and his family at the premiere of the film at the Tribeca Film Festival.
DP: Did you meet your two child protagonists, Tain Gregory and Sammy Vertucci, before you met their parents?
LK: All the young kids who auditioned had their mothers there. When I met Tain’s mother, Sophfronia, I said, “Wow, this is a great family.” Eventually, I met his father, too. I would also meet Sammy’s parents, Diane and Tom. Sammy was at the original audition but I don’t think we actually filmed her then because we were out in the hallway with our one camera talking to Tain. To be honest, of all the kids the first one I gravitated to was Tain, who was just nine years old and in third grade. I watched him recite “Jabberwocky” for his audition and then I talked to him afterwards and he was just a charmer. I’m sure he would have been cast anyway, but I kept lobbying for him, telling Michael, “Come on, this kid is great!”
DP: How long were you up there filming the auditions?
LK: We spent two days there. Tom said, “Let’s keep going,” so again on spec, I returned to Newtown the next weekend for the callbacks, and that’s when Tain and Sammy were cast. Then we did some scrambling to get some quick partial funding so we could film the rehearsals.
DP: Seeing how happy and excited and engaged Tain, Sammy and the other kids are at rehearsals—and how the troubled Sammy comes out of her shell—made me wish that every kid in Newtown could be in this show. I felt sorry for those who didn’t make the cut. Did you?
Midsummer in Newtown
Jimmy and Nelba holding a poster of their daughter, Ana.
LK: Yes. But there were actually two productions that Michael Unger directed: “A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “101 Dalmatians.” So there were a lot of kids involved and only a few were excluded. Some, of course, didn’t get speaking parts.
DP: Why did you choose to a rock musical adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” rather than “101 Dalmatians?”
LK: For a couple of reasons. We thought kids doing Shakespeare was an interesting challenge. Also there is something in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” at least on the surface, that is about restoration—it’s summer, not winter–even though, we make the point that Newtown can never really have full restoration. As Newtown’s historian says, it’s going to age out; there’s nothing that is going away.
DP: Did you stay in Newtown throughout filming?
LK: No, we went back and forth between there and New York City.  We’d go for two or three days to Newtown and then spend a few days here before returning. We didn’t see every day of rehearsals, but we saw about half of them.
DP: What was your interaction with Michael Unger? You had separate projects and goals so surely you didn’t want to be in each other’s way.
LK: There was no problem at all. When I heard about this story I hadn’t met Michael, so I kept thinking about Waiting for Guffman and its director who just wanted a gig. But Michael is the real deal. He’d never say to us, “Stay away while I’m doing this.” He might tell us to move the camera so we wouldn’t interfere with the choreography but it would never be for reasons of privacy. I never tried to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, including Michael’s, and I made sure he was okay with whatever we were doing. After I did an interview with a kid, he’d ask about it but never interfered. He didn’t necessarily know when we were asking the kids about The Day, as it is called.
DP: I read that your other producer, Braden Bergan, spent time in a town not far from Newtown. Were you advised by her or anyone else on what to expect and how to conduct yourself when approaching the kids?
LK: Ultimately, the parents guided us. Even as we were shooting the callbacks and rehearsals, we were meeting with them. We’d ask them what was permissible and good to ask their kids, not just on camera but during the course of a day. And I never interviewed a child without their parents being there.
DP: It is interesting hearing Tain recall being protective of his special-needs best friend Will during the attack on the school. In your experience with the kids, did you ever hear them talk to each other about that day?
LK: No, but they would talk to me about it. They’d think I wanted to know about a friend of theirs and they might tell me a story. We didn’t have permission to include those moments in the movie. Even for the people who are talked about, we also made sure we had permission to use the footage. Very often when we talked about The Day with a kid it would be near the end of the interview. I waited for the kids to reference something about it and that would lead to a discussion about it. How much we’d deal with The Day was a constant source of discussion in production and post-production. What is the correct balance? I had two hundred hours of interviews and we could have reconstructed every moment of The Day. We wanted to have the story of The Day in our film but we didn’t want to have too much and submerge the story we were most interested in. Michael was concerned too because he wanted to focus on the play, not The Day.
DP: You say in the press notes, “Without minimizing Michael Unger’s accomplishments, our job wasn’t to show a performance of the play. The play simply provides up with a context in which to tell the story of how Newtown is finding a future with positivity and strength after enduring such a terrible tragedy.”
LK: That helps explain how we present the play on opening night. We include moments from a number of scenes, but we don’t show it scene by scene. So if you want to know every plot twist and turn of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” you’re not going to get it from watching this movie. Believe me, early on we considered whether to show the whole production. But we realized that wasn’t what our story was. We wanted to show enough of what’s going on in the play that’s relative to the theme of what’s going on with these kids and this town and show how the arts can inspire people and bring them together for a common purpose. We also wanted to show how the arts can say something about the human condition. We wanted to get at the humanity and watch people do it together, through a collaboration. When I was first there, I was thinking that doing something like this musical was the perfect antidote to the worst that can happen, the worst of humanity. The worst of humanity is killing. The antidote is to be in this loving group and doing something positive that you can share with your community. The kids were being imbued with that.
DP: How was it interviewing their parents?
LK: I felt something when I was around the parents in Newtown, as I did with the kids. I was very careful around them. They’d had it with media, so especially at the beginning I was careful not to impose on them my curiosity about how the town was dealing with the tragedy. For good reason they were suspicious of me. To them, media is everybody who comes there with an interest in what happened on December 12, 2012—writers, people with cameras. The families there were lied to and intruded upon in ugly ways. I knew that in some quarters we were perceived negatively.
DP: Do you think the people in Newtown who went through that sad day at Sandy Hook feel they can never explain what they experienced to anyone but each other?
LK: Right, they can never tell an outsider. That was told to me by a lot of people. Especially by Jimmy Greene, who lost his six-year-old daughter Ana that day. He was very conscious of it. We heard so many stories about awkwardness, about people on the outside who mean well but say cringe-worthy things. Jimmy said, and it was seconded by other people, that this was a case where as an outsider you just show up. You don’t have to say anything, your presence is appreciated and is all that is wanted. You may ask someone a question on a subject they don’t want to talk about at that moment. I was not going to be a phony about it, I was there to do a job, but a lot of times I didn’t say much but listened. One of the things I learned is that everybody in Newtown has his or her own story and some didn’t want to tell me what they experienced because they felt they’d be upstaging other families and there would be too much self-interest. A lot of people up there have their own causes. Some like Jimmy’s wife Nelba are fighting for gun legislation, others work closely with various charities, and I learned that the parents of one girl who was killed that day have set up a foundation for brain research into the possible underpinnings of violence.
DP: When people opened up to you, I’m sure you felt fortunate, but did you also feel guilty?
LK: I guess it goes with the territory because you might feel you reeled them in. There was a famous debate in The New Yorker about what a good journalist is, and one of the writers making a case was Janet Malcolm, whose point was that nobody’s hands are clean. Since the days I was a reporter I’ve always been conscious of that.
DP: Before difficult interviews, did you have to give yourself pep talks?
LK: I always asked the parents if there were subject I should avoid. Braden was equally attentive, even more so, to the parents, making sure there were no red flags or if it was a bad time to speak to them. We were supersensitive to all that. It wasn’t hard asking about the play. But the question that lingered both with our interviews and subject matter was: “How do we talk about that day?”
DP: In the press notes, Braden Bergen says, “One of the things we talked about a lot was how to make sure the audience remembers what happened, without dwelling on it.” I’m sure your issue was how to find the right balance in your film.
LK: That’s true. And it goes back to what you were saying about feeling guilty asking tough questions that you needed to ask. We did have to ask about that terrible day because that’s what anchors our interest in the kids. We wanted to acknowledge that they endured this horror and that something is happening now—being in the play–that is helping them find a future with positivity and strength. Jimmy Greene says, “You can’t always choose what happens to you in this life, but you can choose how you respond.” You can respond in an angry way or a loving way. Sometimes it’s by having an event, sometimes it’s doing a play.
DP: It’s expressed in the movie that damaged people can at least try to find love and beauty after horror. In fact, that is the major theme of your movie.
LK: That is the theme. That’s why we wanted to have a gentle quality and mood. Jimmy says that the question he keeps in front of him is: how can he as a musician reflect love and beauty in the spirit of his little girl?  For me, all roads in this doc lead to this moment. We’re all human beings and few of us don’t go through horrible situations at some time, but how we choose to react to it, how we deal with it, is what unites us.
DP: Jimmy uses the word “cope.” When you first started the movie did you, Tom, and Braden already have this find-love-and-beauty-in-tragedy theme in mind?
LK: No. It was originally just about the kids in Newtown being in a play. It came about simply because of what we paid attention to and how we framed things. We wanted to make sure there was a tenderness that came through, because that’s what we felt and what seemed appropriate. We didn’t really force a theme. We didn’t know what the theme was. It just seemed to be a good project, kids putting on a play. I wanted to let the chips fall where they may and let it speak to us. But what happened was that every day we were there the parents of the kids in the play would ask, “Have you talked to the families yet?” By “families” they meant the families who lost a child. At the time we’d talked to just one such family and they weren’t interested in participating.
DP: Once people began telling you to meet these families, did you start thinking that you did indeed need to include the parents of at least one child who didn’t survive?
LK: It occurred to me but I definitely didn’t want to force it. We thought we were going to keep this narrowly focused, but people there kept asking if we had talked to the families, so we met with a couple of them outside of production. They all had something to do with the arts. We were focusing on the kids in the play so I didn’t want it to seem like we were including the token family of a dead child.
DP: I read that it took a while before Jimmy and Nelba spoke to you.
LK: Braden had spent a lot of time with them when she was up there, and it took a while before they agreed to tell their story, both because of their lack of trust in outsiders and that they were hurting so badly. But it went quickly with me. They piggybacked on top of the other stuff we filmed, and the only reason we didn’t speak to them sooner is that we wanted to first finish up at the high school. We talked to Jimmy, who is a Grammy-nominated saxophone player, about his music and the arts, and to Nelba, who is a marriage and family therapist, about what she is doing in regard to a scholarship in Ana’s memory. And it was obvious we should include them in the movie.
DP: Nelba was the perfect subject for you because she is involved in so many things.
LK: She’s great. Her anger is so real. We went to their house a few times and Braden hung out with them a lot.
DP: Did you go into Ana’s room?
LK: It was interesting. We always stayed in the living room, but I asked them if we could go in her room. Finally they agreed, but the stipulation was that we couldn’t film in the house. I was curious about the reason and Nelba said, “Because I know how you are going to shoot her empty chair.” I don’t think I would have done that, but what really moved me was that every day at 4 o’clock she would look out the window because that’s the time her daughter came home from school.
DP: As an outsider, would you refrain from saying the words “I’m sorry for your loss” to them and other parents?
LK: That’s what you say when you first meet. You say it and there’s a voice in you telling you that you might be saying it just because you want something. But we really were sorry and Jimmy was sensitive enough to see that.
DP: What is it that people say that upsets the parents of the victims?
LK: All kinds of things. We’re all human so we say awkward things. The egregious one is: “So are you going to have more children?” They mean well. But even if you say words of consolation, it might not be what they want to deal with at that moment. It makes you feel better, but not them.
DP: Nelba is in the only person in your movie who brings up Adam Lanza. He’s probably a taboo subject for many people in the community, so did you ask her about him or prod her to mention him in connection to the work she is now doing with kids in schools?
LK: Never. Early on Braden and I decided, “One thing we are not going to be talking to anyone about is Adam Lanza.” Although we had first-person accounts, we deliberately just scratched the surface about the most horrifying aspects of what happened and we chose not to deal with the boy who killed those kids. Nelba brought him up on her own and she had the wherewithal to think: How do we prevent the next Adam Lanza? Maybe somebody didn’t reach him at some point? Maybe there was no connection? She has the impulse to think outside herself and ask how she can help it from happening again.
DP: Nelba visits school classrooms and brings up how some kids feel disconnected, as did Adam Lanza. That’s a theme of your movie because Sammy felt that way before being in the play and Tain keeps a strong connection with Will, who might otherwise have trouble finding friends.
LK: Isn’t it great how Tain and Will are with each other? I get almost teary now when I think of them having a play date. To Tain, it was just another day with his friend. He was just eight-years-old but, as you mentioned, on the day the kids were endangered he still thought to put his arms around Will to assure him it would be okay.
DP: In your movie, you show how being in the musical brings at least temporary escape and good cheer to these kids and their parents.  As a viewer, I was thinking how you strategically placed the scenes of the auditions, rehearsals, and the opening night performance so that we too get a cheery break from the serious parts of your movie, when the adults speak of sad, troublesome things.  Was this indeed deliberate on your part to make it easier on us?
LK: The answer is yes to a large extent because, number one…it’s the way life is.  Also, if things are presented in a film or book as relentlessly sad, you run the risk of eliciting pity, as opposed to empathy.  You can make something maudlin by milking sadness.  It’s manipulative and produces sentimentality rather than authentic, earned emotion.  The impulse to be positive and even cheerful, in the wake of trauma or tragedy, is such an exemplary quality.  I’m always moved by that.  It’s a quality we found with the kids, their parents, and, of course, Nelba and Jimmy.
DP: Were the kids, Sammy in particular, self-aware enough to know that being in this play may help them come out of their shells or deal with the tragedy?
LK: I think it began for them as just doing something that was fun. Things around the children were so heavy that adults were trying to find ways to guide them through. This was a case where they were identifying with kids and trying to make Newtown a community that wasn’t defined just by tragedy but was a place where there could be fun. Among the kids I found a real heightened self-awareness, but it probably was after the fact when they realized what the play did for them. Even Tain at the beginning was sort of excited about doing something but he was nervous and not 100% sure why he wanted to be in the play. He’s self-aware but I’m not sure he recognized he was healing by being in it.
DP: I doubt Sammy told you directly that she needed to be healed, but do you think she knew?
LK: Definitely. She used to be outgoing with her friends, played softball and was much more active. But she really closed down and her parents, Diane and Tom, were very concerned.
DP: Sammy didn’t get a speaking part, but obviously it was important for her just to be part of the production. She was cast as one of the fairy queen’s attendants but we can see that she thrived in that supporting role. It was meaningful to her and she made the best of it.
LK: We were up there every week and we could really see her bloom. Although she had an outward demeanor of someone trying to be confident and extroverted, she was really closed off and somewhat insecure. It affected her that her best friend lost her younger sister that day, and then her friend’s family moved away. She was lonely. Sammy by nature is gregarious, but she was prevented from being that way until she tried out for the play. She liked the idea of being in the play and making new friends. She came out of her shell without having to think too hard about it, and it gave me a lot of pleasure watching her make friends, who she has kept to this day.
DP: I think that image I mentioned of a sunny, pleasant sky conveys a spiritual aspect, that God hasn’t abandoned this town. And God is really important to the parents of Ana and Tain.
LK: I’m glad you recognized that. They are great embodiments of what faith can bring. How else can they get through their lives?
DP: Even we nonbelievers would say, “Thank God, they have God.”
LK: Exactly. I am always moved when I find people strengthened by their faith.” I often say to my wife, “I wish I had their faith.” Jimmy says, “We live by the Word. We didn’t expect this but maybe there will be an answer for me that I’ll get because I know Ana is in heaven waiting for us.” Tain’s mother lives by the Word, too, and Tain loves going with her to church.
DP: I found it interesting that when Michael and his composer talk about working with kids, they say kids can meet the same challenges adult actors can. So they don’t treat them as kids but as actors. You want these Newtown kids in particular to experience being kids, so by treating them the same as adult actors, isn’t it defeating the purpose?
LK: The composer works with a lot of kids and says that if you set the bar high for them, they feel really great when they reach it. I think it’s a nice gift how Michael talks about Shakespeare to the kids and makes it understandable for them. And he tells them what he’d tell an adult actor: “Be yourself. I cast you because you’re you.”
DP: After you’d been in Newtown for a while, would people wave to you?
LK: They didn’t know who we were. But there were a few times when we were filming exteriors in the town, we’d get a few looks. Remember this is a community that has even had to deal with “The Truthers,” a small number of people who insist the whole Newtown tragedy never happened. That was going on already when we were making the movie and was brought up by the parents. It affects people in Newtown far greater than the small number of conspiracy theorists, but we didn’t touch on it. There is good reason to address what’s going on but we decided not to give exposure to the extremists.
DP: Other than the two plays were there other things going on in Newtown that were designed to uplift the town and show it was coming back.
LK: The other events I noticed were connected to the church that Sophfronia and Tain go to. The annual parade that we show is important to the town. They say everyone in town is either in it or watching it. It’s tradition, so we could see that the people were defiantly showing up to maintain the link to times prior to the tragedy.
DP: Tell me about Opening Night.
LK: We had a number of cameras so I was making sure that they were placed correctly operating correctly. So that was a lot on my mind. I chose to be right in the wings and to see all that emotion and apprehension and then to walk out onto the stage and hear a huge wave applause was really moving. I also watched the end when they got an ovation and bowed.
DP: Did you feel the tension among the parents?
LK: Sophfronia says that she was nervous. She was. But I knew that even if Tain or Sammy tripped up, they’d get through it. I wasn’t worried but was nervous simply about their walking out on stage for the first time in their lives and seeing a sea of people.
DP: Editing your film must have been emotional for you.
LK: I could say that in some ways it was an easy to choose footage because we’d made the choice that the movie was about the kids and Jimmy and Nelba, and not about the events of The Day. That’s what we were conscious of in editing. The hardest thing about the editing is that we interviewed about sixty people but there turned out to be only five or six central characters. We could have gone off and had numerous storylines but we ended up with the storylines we had in the first cut. In the editing, we kept distilling it.
DP: When you did get teary-eyed in the editing room, was it from seeing sadness or seeing people move out their sadness and find at least temporary happiness?
LK: During the filming, I’d see footage each day. One scene that got to me is of Tain giving Will a tour backstage after the play, before joining everyone else in the hall. Even now I get emotional thinking about that. What a heart he has. It makes me feel good how Tain’s parents have raised him. They are wonderful people. They volunteer for things. Sophfronia, who graduated from Harvard, is a volunteer bus driver.
DP: In your film, Newtown comes across as racially diverse. The cast includes black kids, Tain’s mother Sophfronia Scott Gregory and Jimmy Greene are African American, and Nelba Márquez-Greene’s family emigrated from Puerto Rican. But this town of 27,000, is actually 95% white. Was it deliberate to make it make it seem otherwise?
LK: When I met Tain he came across to me like a Great American Kid. I liked the fact that he was biracial because that’s America. I wanted to make people feel included. I didn’t want it to be an issue. Nelba talks about how in Newtown kids who have been through trauma get help and attention, and it’s not like that everywhere.
DP: It’s two years later. What are your thoughts now?
LK: Here’s the thing: for the last seven months the movie has been on the festival circuit. So I’ve had a chance to go to other cities. I always question everything, so it was very heartening watching it with audiences. We got the same reaction in every city. After Tribeca we went to the Seattle Film Festival. They laughed in the same places, including the brief scene with the young twin girls who speak about Shakespeare, taking turns saying their sentences. I love digression yet we made sure we kept the balance.
DP: I think what audiences will appreciate is that they aren’t going to Newtown so you’re showing them what they want to see. And they come out of the theater feeling good.
LK: Again I go back to what Jimmy says about responding to something bad. The strength and wisdom of that. When you see Tain is going to be okay, you feel good. I knew a lot was going on with Tain when he cried after realizing he won’t be going to more rehearsals and the play is over. There is a lot of depth there.
DP: Are you keeping in touch with the kids?
LK: Yes, I’ve brought Tain and Sammy to a couple of the festivals. Tain did a Q&A in Boston and was so charming. And Sammy did one and was hilarious. In two years their voices have changed and their perspectives. They’re even more self-aware. Oh, and Sammy has become a baker.
DP: The movie is uplifting and reassuring but because of circumstances, you are prevented as a filmmaker from giving viewers a truly happy ending.
LK: True. The last image you see before you see the town again is of Nelba. Jimmy says his last line and the camera drifts to Nelba who is sitting next to him. Her face reveals everything viewers should know. It says that you’re looking at someone who is dealing with the tragedy that took her daughter’s life but who will always have a broken heart. I know she will.

*Yes, like many of you, I am still in shock and despair about losing our cherished Sag Harbor Cinema, the rare one-screen Art Deco movie palace that, along with the Bay Street Theater, made our small village the cultural center of the Hamptons, envied by the elite as the absolute king of the mountain. East Hampton and Southampton didn’t have what we had–now we don’t have it either. In truth, my wife and I might not have bought a house in Sag Harbor in the mid-1990s if not for my being seduced by the sight of a fabulous old-time theater standing proudly right in the middle of Main Street. Moreover, it was an arthouse that dared show independent and foreign films. Some people said Sag Harbor was a town with the great movie theater; I saw it as a movie theater with a town attached to it. I could see myself at home here.
Are you, like me, already missing its quirky aspects? There was the confusion inside the lobby, with nobody knowing which of the two lines were for people who had purchased tickets already or for those without tickets who wondered if the ticket booth would ever reopen. The ticket booth always opened too late, so people often found seats with the movie already playing. They barely had time to buy a bag of cold popcorn. I always wondered why there was a poster across from the ticket booth of an Irish boxing movie nobody ever saw or even heard of? Did it actually play there? And who installed the two urinals in the men’s room so close together that you and the other guy felt you were sharing? I think the Sag Harbor Cinema was the only theater where your view was blocked not only if someone sat directly in front of you but even two or even three rows in front of you. I never saw so much shifting of seats as each person sat down—it was like a pinball machine. I remember the time my elderly mother sat in an aisle seat and a gigantic man sat down in front of her, blocking her view. But she hopped up and cleverly moved to the aisle seat in front of him—only to have an even bigger giant plop down in front of her. And then there was the time a middle-aged man moving side to side down a row—not the aisle—banged into a seat that was down and, like a Buster Keaton, did a slapstick somersault and actually disappeared from view, ending up flat on his tummy on the sticky floor. I, sigh, miss such moments (though not the increase in admission price to $15 for everyone, Mr. Mallow). Most of all of course, I long for the wonderful theater itself and the exceptional, diverse selection of movies that played there and often nowhere else on Long Island, sometimes for two days and sometimes for months at a time. I’m sure you do, too. Surely, the empty space on our street reflects the empty feeling we all have now that something precious is missing. The glorious sign was rescued so I believe that is, forgive the pun, a hopeful sign. Our town needs to attach itself to our cinema again. So, all together now: Please rebuild!

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