Click here for this week’s full schedule for the State Theatre and Bijou by the Bay in Traverse City, Michigan.
The day has arrived. For two months I have eagerly awaited the day when we could dim the lights at the State Theatre, flip the switch on the Barco 4K, and project onto our screen the best film I’ve seen so far this year. It’s called “12 Years a Slave,” and saying it’s the best thing I’ve seen this year doesn’t really do it justice. Because this masterpiece of a movie will, years from now, be on many film lovers’ lists of their best films of all time. Yes, it’s not only that good, it’s that important, that necessary, that brilliant.
This past summer, the theme of the 9th annual Traverse City Film Festival was “One Great Movie Can Change You.” My friends, you are about to experience one of those films. You are about to see a movie the likes of which you have never seen before. I know that’s a bold statement to make, but I’m confident you will not disagree with me as you exit the State, stunned, after two hours and ten minutes of experiencing a masterwork of cinema.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot because it is best that you experience it fresh and first-hand. But I do want to make a few comments about this profound movie and the larger impact I believe it will have beyond its mere exhibition in movie theaters across America.
Stop and think about how few movies have been made about American slavery. Seeing that it is such a huge part of our history, you’d think that there would be many, many stories to tell. Sure, there was the TV show “Roots,” but other than “Amistad” and “Django Unchained,” there has been an obvious and deafening silence when it comes to this shameful part of our past.
So it fell to a group of foreigners — a British director and two UK actors, a German actor, an actress from Kenya — to tell OUR story. You can look at that and say, “Now that’s pretty pathetic,” or you can see “12 Years a Slave” for what it is — a gift, a true gift to us, from our friends from afar. Or perhaps it is a searing request of us — to no longer turn away from who we are and how we got here. To not sugar coat it. To not tsk-tsk it and offer platitudes of “yes, we were wrong, but that wasn’t us, that was those people who lived back then. We’re different. We elected a black man president!” Never mind that we got here by building the world’s greatest economy on the backs of slaves, and maintaining — to this very day — privileges that white people still carry. Why do African Americans remain, still, 150 years later, on the absolute bottom rung of the economic ladder? Probably just bad luck, huh?
But I’m not suggesting that you come see “12 Years a Slave” to listen to a sermon or take your medicine. The people who made this movie have no interest in that. They’re not interested in teaching you a lesson or having you sit through an after-school special. No, they want to show you that this wonderful art form can still produce, to borrow a phrase, heartbreaking works of staggering genius. Art that can both entertain and leave you so moved, so engaged, that the world cannot help but be a little better place once you have witnessed it.
We are proud to be able to present the premiere of northern Michigan’s exclusive run of “12 Years a Slave.” Small “markets” such as ours will not be getting this film for weeks to come. But we have it beginning today — and I look forward to seeing it with you at the State.
P.S. Do not stay away from this movie because you may think it’ll be “too hard to take.” You will not be paralyzed by this movie; rather, you’ll be moved in those ways you wish would happen more often at the movies. And whoever you take to it will never stop thanking you. As for kids, I’d say most tweens and teens not only can handle it, I sorta see it as our civic and cultural duty as adults to bring them to it. Yes, there are intense scenes of man’s inhumanity to man. Watching that is a small price to pay if it means that when it’s over, you leave knowing that there’s a historical reason why your kids in Traverse City can pick up some iced tea and Skittles on the way home, and actually make it home.
Plus, Brad Pitt’s in it.