January 5, 2024 marked my final discussion of The Great Movies, a library virtual program that grew out of an in-person program at the Severna Park Library. My then coworker Julia Roberts (not the one you’re thinking about) and I launched the in-person program in 2016, and I moved the program online during the 2020 pandemic. My cohost Darnice Jasper and I discussed movies with our online audiences for 25 consecutive Fridays before settling down into a monthly program. We led a total of 82 discussions which featured several special guests which you’ll see listed below.
The idea actually came from a woman named Stephanie, who heads the library’s Virtual Services department. Just days after Covid brought everyone’s world to a standstill, Stephanie contacted me to see if I would be interested in starting an online movie discussion group that would bring people together virtually while we couldn’t leave our homes. Our library patrons could watch movies selected by me from Kanopy, which everyone with a library card could access. People could sign up on our website and receive a link and password for our Zoom meeting. They could watch the film at their convenience, which was a very different format from our in-person movies, where we watched films together, yet had only a short amount of time to discuss them before the library closed. The virtual program allowed us an hour (and frequently more) to talk about the film, sharing ideas and opinions.
I’m paraphrasing, but Stephanie commented, “You’ll probably want to start with a few positive, uplifting movies to make people feel good, give them some hope.” So what did I do for our first film? Pick a murder mystery.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974) may not be the feel-good movie Stephanie was looking for to kick off the series, but we had 20 people show up, all of whom seemed to have a good time discussing the film.
I began to tell my film Twitter friends about the program since they could join us from anywhere in the world. (If they didn’t have access to Kanopy, they could watch the movie on other platforms.) Something happened that went beyond my tweets, since we started getting people from all parts of the U.S. (26 states at last count) and five countries. None of us had anticipated anything like this.
You can find several of these discussions on my YouTube channel (some episodes linked below). I generally introduced each film then got out of the way and let the participants make comments. Sometimes Darnice and I would have to redirect straying conversations back to the film, but generally things went very well.
We began to develop a community, to get comfortable with one another, regardless of where people were. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to meet quite a few of our regulars in person, sometimes at film festivals, sometimes driving across town.
I loved hearing everyone’s personal stories, why a certain film connected or didn’t connect with them. Some of the attendees had a previous experience with the film; others didn’t, seeing it for the first time. One of the most gratifying comments we would get sounded something like this: “Tonight’s movie isn’t one that I would’ve sought out on my own, but I’m glad I watched it.” So am I.
The program was so successful Darnice and I were asked to give a presentation of our program at the 2021 Maryland Tech Connect conference.
Darnice is working on a list of every film we discussed during the past four years, so I’ll add that soon. In the meantime, here’s a list of the films I presented (designated “virtual”), which does not include the titles Darnice or others led.
We were delighted to host several special guests to our programs:
Bill Morrison to discuss his film Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016)
Alan K. Rode to discuss Detective Story (1951)
Jedidiah Ayres to discuss The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Jessica Pickens to discuss Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)
Alan K. Rode to discuss The Proud Rebel (1958)
John Sayles to discuss his film The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)
Imogen Sara Smith to discuss Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Fritzi Kramer to discuss Tol’able David (1921)
Andrew Nette to discuss Wake in Fright (1971)
Cole Roulain and Ericca Long to discuss We Are the Best! (2013)
We were also pleased to host other special guests on various topics:
Raquel Stecher for two programs: Summer Movie Book Reading and The Best Movie Books of 2020
Eddie Muller for Film Restoration and Preservation During a Pandemic
Todd Hitchcock of the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center for The Future of Movies and Movie Theaters
Christina Lane to discuss her book Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock
If you attended or were a guest on one of our programs, I am grateful for your support. Thank you for being a part of our Great Movies community, and thank for being a champion of cinema. Please keep it going. Thank you also to my branch managers, our administration, our Library Foundation. But my biggest thank you goes to my friend and, as I lovingly refer to her on each program, my partner-in-crime Darnice Jasper. I couldn't have done it without you.
The program will continue with Darnice at the helm, and I know she’ll do a fantastic job. If you’d like to see what’s coming up with the program, please visit the AACPL website, find Events, click on All Events. Expand the Filters box, and type “Great Movies” in the Keyword Search. You’ll find several movies besides ours, but look for the ones that begin with “The Great Movies” in the title.
As you can see, we’ve discussed films from practically every decade in cinema from several countries, cultures, and worldviews. We’re not only exploring films, but keeping them alive, introducing them to new audiences. More importantly, we’re building relationships. Libraries often talk about building communities, and there’s no reason those communities can’t be global in addition to local communities.
I want to urge not only individual movie lovers but also library systems to offer movies and a platform for discussing them to your patrons. We will grow as movie fans and as people. If you’re not sure how to make that happen at the local (or global) level, reach out to me. I’ll be glad to share what Darnice and I have learned.
In the meantime, since I am retiring from the library in a couple of weeks and won’t be a regular part of the Great Movies discussions anytime soon, you may see me lurking in the background. After all, I can’t stay away from movies. I suspect the same goes for you.