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Shifting Gears / Sharing stories, building community

Published 3:57 pm, Tuesday, September 25, 2012
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It's coming. I'm almost sure. It's going to happen. Keep your fingers crossed. Join in. It is magic that is coming, once again, to our town. And no town should be without its own little cinema paradiso. Though, for too long a time, we were without it.

Magic and make-believe, food for thought, a feast for the eyes are what we get at the movies. Living for a brief two hours a different life, in a different world. At the same time snuggling, holding hands, sharing laughter and tears in a dark, cool, popcorn-scented silver-screened theater. There's nothing like it.

Those of us with some years behind us remember movie theaters as they used to be. Though we can now slip a DVD into a black box, and, on a wall-size screen in our living room see the self-same film that was shown in the theater just a few months ago, something is missing. Cineplexes are, well, cineplexes. And some films just cannot be seen anywhere.

Stories have been a part of the human story for as far back as we can imagine. They were told and retold, embellished and passed down from generation to generation. Mostly, stories have been about things felt, mysteries deciphered, reassurances and comfort proffered. The less people knew about the mysteries of life, the larger-than-life their stories were -- creation myths, the rage and jealousy of the gods, how to appease them. Later in our evolving, the stories became more about ourselves than the gods -- kings and knights, our foolishnesses and our tragedies, journeys to find distant lands or holy grails. The stories people gathered together to hear were about themselves writ large -- the everyman in Shakespeare or Homer or Milton.

The one sustaining thing about storytelling throughout human history is that we told them to each other. While we sit together and listen to the story, we are joined in a mysterious shared experience. For a brief time, our minds, so often separate and lonely, are linked together, sharing excitement, fear, love, sadness and that unnamed emotion of "being touched."

At the movies, people we know and don't know are linked together, experiencing, as much as it is possible, the same thing, at the same time, in the same place. We are, also, through this shared experience of listening together to a story, tied to our ancient ancestors sitting around a fire, in a temple, at the Globe Theater, at the movies.

Sharing stories that transport us, together, to a space outside ourselves is what stories do. It's what movies do. It's a thing communities do. Speaking of communities, the Westport Cinema Initiative is a shining star upon the stage of what communities can do.

Last year, I wrote a column on home, hometowns and the reciprocal relationship between people and their hometowns, noting that in the best of ways, we take ownership and responsibility for our hometown, helping to shape, direct and encourage it to be its best. Our hometown in turn, helps form us to be our best.

The WCI has been doing just that, over several years, with lots of diplomacy, persistence and enthusiasm. Sandy Lefkowitz, Jonathan Steinberg, Doug Tirola, John Sabino, Jerry Minsky, Lisa Marriott, Bobby Jacowleff, Sooo-z Mastropietro, Larry Perlstein, Doug Russ, Alex White and not a few others have been gathering together, working hard, to help Westport be its best.

This cinema project is unique. As a not-for-profit charitable organization, it calls us to join together as a community to become supporting members to make this wonderful endeavor actually happen. The plan is to create an independent art house cinema, bringing the best of independent films, providing educational programming and serving as a resource for local film makers to screen their films.

This nascent theater, which seems to have found a wonderful location upon which to settle (right through the arched passage underneath Tavern on Main), contains layer upon layer of community. Born as an idea in the minds of a few people who live in and love Westport, it has grown into a project that invites all of us as a community to support it, first financially, then through involvement, and, then, on into the pure enjoyment of the shared experiences of stories coming to life on screen.

Westport's cinema project promises, on so many levels, to bring us together, partaking in the responsibility, the care and tending, and the magic. A place for a hometown to come together to share the stories of our times.

"Cinema Paradiso" is a 1988 Italian film about a cinema, a boy and an old man in the years after World War II. At the end, the theater is being torn down to give way to a parking lot. This time, it seems, a parking lot is going to be transformed into a cinema. Check out the film, and check out the Westport Cinema Initiative. Go to www.westportcinema.org.

Carol Swenson is a counseling psychologist with a practice in Westport. Her "Shifting Gears" appears monthly, and she may be reached at shiftinggears.swenson@gmail.com.