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Hit West Orange Classic Film Series Returns For 7th Season

Sunday matinee screenings & film chats will run January 8 - February 26 at AMC Theater

Movie lovers, get out your calendars.

The popular, “West Orange Classic Film Series,” returns for its seventh season on Sunday, Jan. 8, with director Sam Peckinpah’s powerful western, “The Wild Bunch,” first released in 1969. The festival continues every Sunday through February 26.

It’s the same hit formula as in the past, offering 2 p.m. screenings of high-quality, often newly-restored prints of both award-winning movies and cinephile cult favorites. The festival is held at the AMC Theater in the West Orange Essex Green Plaza. Each film is briefly introduced, then followed by a film chat led by a rotating cast of experts.

Organizers advise planning ahead. The recently-renovated AMC Theater holds just 135 viewers and last year, three of the films sold out. “We averaged audiences of more than 100 per film and had several sell outs, so order your tickets early and get there early,” said West Orange Film Society and Festival Co-Chair Ken Mandel.

“We include both popular favorites and unknown gems,” said Mandel. “Some are color; some are in black and white—we show a montage of choices.”

This year's roster includes musicals, foreign language films and the epic “Dr. Zhivago,”  shown on Jan. 15. Dr. Zhivago is the  1965 multiple-Oscar winning work by film society favorite director David Lean. “Lean’s movies are meant to be seen on a big screen in a theater,” Mandel said. “We’ve been trying to get ‘Zhivago’ for years, but the studios had not been making it available until now. It is going to be visually spectacular.”

Mandel, an Emmy Award-winning documentarian and his socity Co-Director Pat Wright—Wright’s credits includes an Oscar-- make most of the selections with input from about 900 film goers. “People make requests, we see what is available and then we send around a survey for viewer input,” Mandel said. “We try to include films people want to see.”

Both Mandel and Wright live in West Orange-- Mandel for 26 years-- but the audience comes from throughout Essex County and beyond, as do the film chat leaders. These include “Star-Ledger” senior film critic Stephen Whitty from Millburn who will talk about the androgen-fueled “The Wild Bunch” and “The Hustler,” being shown on Feb. 19; starring William Holden and Paul Newman respectively. Also presenting, are film scholars Allen Barra of South Orange, Gerard Amsellem of Maplewood and Caryn Cline. 

This year’s lineup includes two music-drenched films, a 50th anniversary showing of 1961 Best Picture Oscar Winner “West Side Story" and the Portuguese-language “Black Orpheus,” from 1959, with a  Bossa Nova sound track by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa. Directed by French director Marcel Camus, “Black Orpheus” swept the major best foreign language film awards--including the Oscar-- in 1960. 

Rarely seen is another foreign language film, this one by the short-lived, groundbreaking French director Jean Vigo, who died after making just a handful of films. Of these, the 1934 "L’Atalante” had enormous influence on both French “New Wave” and world cinema. Widely considered one of the best films ever made, it screens on January 22. 

Rounding out the festival on Feb. 12, is an afternoon of this year’s award-winning shorts presented by the “Black Maria Film Festival” under the leadership of West Orange’s John Columbus. The closing film, “Sweetie,” will be shown on Feb. 26. It first brought New Zealand born director Jane Campion of  “Piano” fame to film lovers.  “Don’t let the fact that this art-house hit was made in 1989 fool you,” Wright said, “‘Sweetie’ is a true classic in every sense of the word.” 

As to what makes a film a classic? “We want films that are both entertaining and offer something to learn,” Mandel said. “It’s not nostalgia--it’s art.” 

For further information, contact wofilmsociety@aol.com. The not for profit “Classic Film Society” is under the aegis of the West Orange Arts Council; see WOAC for the complete schedule and admission information.  Find directions to the AMC Cinema here. Click to learn more about the Black Maria Film Festival.

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