Film for thought: Lincoln screening draws 26 N.J. schools to NJPAC

Steven Spielberg watched his first movies during his childhood in New Jersey, which – in a neat little coincidence – was the location for a screening of his epic film, Lincoln, attended by nearly 1,800 young people at NJPAC’s Prudential Hall.

The high school students and their teachers were the first audience to view – and enthusiastically endorse with ear-ringing applause and fist-pumping – Movies That Matter,  a film series that bonds socially conscious feature films and documentaries with classroom curriculums. The four-part series was born of a partnership between NJPAC and the entertainment company Participant Media, whose success lies in producing movies that inspire communities to act on issues of national and global concern. The program is funded by the Women’s Association of NJPAC.

NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber, a former executive at Participant, related the director’s preference for showing Lincoln in a big way – that the film’s sweep is short-changed by the dimensions of a room at the multiplex. He told students from Newark, Jersey City, East Orange and Montclair that they would experience Lincoln “exactly as the filmmaker intended you to see it,” on a 40-foot screen with state-of-the-art sound.

Released in 2012, Lincoln is a dramatic rendering of the 16th president’s last few months in office. As the Great Emancipator grapples with the division and devastation wrought by a seemingly endless Civil War, he rallies political support among foes and allies for ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. The film scored a dozen Oscar nominations and won two, including a best leading actor statuette for Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role.

In addition to Schreiber and Laurie Carter, NJPAC’s Vice President for Arts Education, speakers included guests Cami Anderson, Superintendent of Newark Public Schools, and Dr. Clement A. Price, Professor of History and Director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers-Newark. Also participating, in a Q&A following the feature, was Lonnie G. Bunch III, Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, who is originally from Newark.

lincoln2-300x232.jpgAt the urging of her history teacher, 16-year-old Cindy Osei, a sophomore at Science Park High School, entered an essay contest co-sponsored by the City of Newark and its public schools to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Her winning entry, titled “Abraham Lincoln: A Perfectly Imperfect Leader,” argued that Lincoln’s overly cautious prudency and indecisive stance on the issue of slavery prolonged the Civil War.

“She did what any great scholar of history does: Complicate the subject,” remarked Price after Osei’s reading.

Teachers in the 26 participating high schools were given an expansive package of educational materials, produced by DreamWorks SKG Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Participant Media, which were utilized in the classrooms two months prior to the screening. Timelines, bibliographies, a who’s who of the cast and the historic figures they depicted, and group activities designed to meet Common Core standards were also provided. In one exercise, students brought 19th century communication up to speed by tweeting updates on the hotly debated 13th Amendment and news of its ratification. “What would Lincoln do?” was a question posed to the students to launch discussions.

“Sitting in the theater with the students, I felt a profound sense of hope for the future,” said Laurie Carter of NJPAC’s Arts Education. “It was obvious that the teachers did an exceptional job of preparing them. They were engaged and energized by the experience. Most importantly, they left the theater with the understanding that they have the potential to make a difference in the world.”

Movies That Matter resumes with showings of A Place at the Table on Nov. 14, Last Call at the Oasis on April 10, 2014 and the yet-to-be-released Chavez on May 22, 2014. NJPAC will collaborate with Participant’s Social Action Team and campaign associates to seek opportunities for New Jersey students and the public to promote change on the issues (hunger, labor rights, global water crisis) illuminated by these films.
 

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