Magic Lantern moves to Bright Box; documentary showing at library

Posted: February 26, 2013

The Winchester Star

The documentary started as a film showing the use of teaching tools created by Scott Laidlaw’s company, Imagine Education, in a handful of classrooms. But the more the filmmakers delved into the issue of the “math cliff,” they realized the film’s scope needed to expand.
“The Biggest Story Problem: Why America’s Students are Failing at Math” documentary will be shown at 2 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Handley Library. Scott Laidlaw, the film’s co-producer, grew up in Winchester and graduated from Handley High School in 1989. The documentary looks at the crisis facing American students when it comes to math and what can be done about it.

Winchester — Magic Lantern Theater and the Bright Box Theatre are teaming up to bring regular movies to the Loudoun Street Mall.

A series of monthly movies begins March 7 at the new space inside the Bright Center, 15 N. Loudoun St., marking what organizers hope will be the start of a great partnership, said Mark Lore, Magic Lantern coordinator and board member.

The move will give Magic Lantern a steady location that fits the nonprofit organization’s desire to make the films part of a larger social event, Lore said. The small, informal Bright Box will have tables and chairs where people can relax, talk and snack before and after the films.

In an age when movie theaters are competing with the ease of DVD players and Netflix — which don’t require people to leave their homes — that social aspect is essential, he said.

“From my point of view, the idea of being able to have something while you watch the movie, to have a place where after the movie you can have a discussion of it and there can be a mingling around, is very important,” said Lore, of Winchester.

The Bright Box series begins at 7 p.m. March 7 with “Bottle Shock” (PG-13), a film about the early days of California wine making starring Alan Rickman and Chris Pine. The series continues April 4 with “Searching for Sugar Man” (PG-13), which won the Academy Award for documentary feature Sunday, and May 2 with Academy Award-nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (PG-13). Tickets are $8 or $5 for Magic Lantern members.

The move marks a departure from Magic Lantern’s usual venue, Handley Library, 100 W. Piccadilly St., though it will not stop showing films there altogether, he said. It has a special showing at 2 p.m. Saturday of Winchester-native Scott Laidlaw’s documentary, “The Biggest Story Problem: Why America’s Students are Failing at Math.”

Magic Lantern also will finish out its agreement with the Friends of Handley Library to have regularly monthly showings there. The final movies scheduled are “Moonrise Kingdom,” March 13 and 16; “61,” April 17 and 20, and “Somewhere,” May 8 and 11. All showings at the library are free and open to the public, but donations are accepted.

The films are then shown once at the Barns of Rose Hill in Berryville. It is an arrangement Lore hopes will continue after the last scheduled film in May, but final arrangements have not been made.

Bright Box will not have its grand opening until later this spring, but it is holding several soft events in the space in the meantime to figure out what works or doesn’t, owner Marilyn Finnemore said.

Showing films in the Bright Box was always something Finnemore envisioned for the space, so she had an excellent projection system and large screen installed during construction.

“The reason I thought Magic Lantern would work so well in Bright Box is because I think they can build their viewing audience significantly if they have a consistent location,” she said. “I also think a lot of people would very much like to be able to see a film downtown and be able to go to dinner before or after.”

Lore and Finnemore have agreed to schedule movies through August to give them time to build up awareness and see how the arrangement works for both of them, he said.

Along with the tables and chairs, Finnemore estimates she could fit about 150 people in a showing.

That would leave plenty of room for growth, Lore said. Magic Lantern averages about 25 people each at its two showings each month at Handley Library and anywhere from 35 to 50 at the showing at the Barns of Rose Hill.

It also draws 100 to 120 people at its outdoor movie showings at Veramar Vineyard and about 75 people at the outdoor movies at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, he said.

There also have been outdoor summer showings of classic movies on the Loudoun Street Mall, but those have been canceled until further notice, he said.

Despite the change in venue to the Bright Box, Magic Lantern will not change its focus on showing independent films and documentaries that people otherwise might not have the chance to see, Lore said. The nonprofit has always tried to appeal to a variety of tastes, and that won’t change.

“We regard ourselves as a service to the community,” he said. “Most of the films we show are entertainment films, but we like to do documentaries, particularly advocacy documentaries, when we think there will be local interest.”

Showing “The Biggest Story Problem” fit that bill and gave the group an opportunity to highlight the work of a former resident, he said.

“We were glad to hear about it. We like to encourage local filmmakers. He may not be living here, but he is from here,” Lore said.

Laidlaw, the film’s co-producer, grew up in Winchester and graduated from Handley High School in 1989. His parents, Jim and Barbara Laidlaw, still live in Winchester.

The documentary looks at the crisis facing American students when it comes to math and what can be done about it, said Laidlaw, of Taos, N.M.

“The story that is not real frequently told is that while our fourth-grade students perform relatively well on international tests, and our eighth-grade students are about average, our 10th-grade students are 25th in the world,” he said. “That drop is the largest of any country in the world.”

The documentary started as a film showing the use of teaching tools created by Laidlaw’s company, Imagine Education, in a handful of classrooms. But the more the filmmakers delved into the issue of the “math cliff,” they realized the film’s scope needed to expand.

Magic Lantern has shown a number of films related to education in the past few years, and the film fits with the organization’s desire to promote education and literacy, Lore said.

The library has been a regular venue for Magic Lantern since it held its first screening in 2001. Originally, Magic Lantern was a project of the Old Town Neighbors Association, a citizen’s group focused on downtown life that has since disbanded.

Organizers wanted to lease a shop and have movie showings there, but since it was entirely volunteer run, the idea wasn’t practical, Lore said.

When it started, the first films were shown using a 16 mm projector, but the nonprofit went digital within a few years and now uses Blu-ray Discs.

The nonprofit’s annual operating expenses are about $7,100, more than half of which goes to film rentals, Lore said. The group has an income of about $11,000, most of which is from individual and business memberships, donations and ticket sales. Part of that money is carried over and part used to upgrade equipment.

All of the showings are manned by volunteers, which are sometimes the hardest commodity to come by, Lore said. Between the new Bright Box location and the upcoming summer outdoor movies, he will be working hard to recruit volunteers to help staff the films.

Information

For a full listing of Magic Lantern showings or for information on volunteering, go to magiclanterntheater.org.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com