On Monday, Oct. 28, Missoula’s Crystal Theatre will reincarnate into a new bodily host. Movies will be shown in the Roxy Theater, down the street from the Crystal’s old Hip Strip digs. The Roxy has done some resurrecting of its own lately, thanks to the International Wildlife Film Festival and Media Center, which bought the three-theater building. This fall, the Roxy has agreed to offer temporary shelter to Missoula’s newest foundling movie theatre while it searches for a place to dig in.
For those to whom the Crystal Theatre is inseparable from its old location... alas, it continues to be no more. No more funky seating arrangements, no more pizza or old movie posters. I remember watching a middle-aged couple carve some final turns between the chairs as ballroom music played with the credits rolling behind the last movie I ever saw at the old Crystal. Nothing can take away that swan song. But for tax purposes, the 501(c)3 non-profit organization known as The New Crystal Theatre, Inc. lives on—with some new blood, including three interns, one of whom chairs the board.
“Venue is important. But content is the bottom line,” says Ryan Polomski, the Crystal’s new executive director. Polomski, who attended film school at the University of Texas after getting his BA in English Literature from UM, returned to Missoula this summer to find the Crystal gone. “I’ve shown movies in bookstores, in houses...for me, getting the films here is the most important thing. It seems like every week I hear about a new independent film coming out that people in Missoula won’t get a chance to see.”
On Oct. 28, The New Crystal Theatre (at the Roxy) will show two documentaries: Afghanistan: From Ground Zero to Ground Zero, and Inside Iraq with No Place to Hide. The films will be followed by a discussion led by UM history professor Mehrdad Kia. Kia is a brilliant interpreter of Middle Eastern and Central Asian events—as well as a fan of the Crystal. Despite the complexity and seriousness of the issues with which he deals, Kia is lively and funny—bright, as it were—and his lectures are often standing-room only.
Afghanistan: Ground Zero to Ground Zero documents a journey made by 23-year-old Masuda Sultan, who calls both New York City and Afghanistan home. Born in Kandahar, Sultan and her family fled Afghanistan 18 years ago during the Soviet invasion. She has lived in the city ever since. In the wake of Sept. 11, Sultan went to Afghanistan to find out how her family was weathering the U.S. response. En route, she bribed border officials, hired a cadre of AK-bearing guards from a local warlord, purchased and delivered more than $1,000 worth of rice, sugar and cooking oil to an Afghan refugee camp, and visited the bombed-out house of Mullah Omar, former leader of the Taliban.
When she got to Kandahar, Sultan learned that her family had sought refuge from U.S. bombing in the rural town of Chowkar-Karez, which was then attacked by the U.S. military. Of the 41 who died, 19 were in Sultan’s family. After visiting the site, the movie ends on a U.S. army base, where Sultan begins several conversations with U.S. military officials by thanking them for ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban, and then asking why the U.S. military attacked the small village where her family was hiding. She never got an answer.
Inside Iraq with No Place to Hide is about ex-Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who traveled to Iraq during the height of U.S. bombing to witness the effect of Desert Storm upon the Iraqi people. Originally commissioned by NBC, the show was cancelled three hours before airtime. What the film shows of Iraq supports the recent assertion by Noam Chomsky that when you destroy civilian infrastructure such as water and sewage treatment facilities—as well as hospitals, bridges, roads and schools—those actions fit perfectly into the United States’ own description of biological warfare.
From a filmmaking perspective, these flicks won’t win any high technical marks. But the access they provide is tremendous.
“This is video-journalism more than filmmaking,” Polomski notes. “It provides a timely opportunity for dialogue about some important things that are going on in the world.”
Polomski is quick to point out that the Crystal is, at heart, a community theater, and as such it should serve a variety of media options, depending on what people ask for. “We are willing to work hard to respond to what people want,” he says. “I hope we can show all kinds of stuff—art films, narrative, documentary. I don’t think there should be any boundaries.”
The autumn line-up also includes a live performance by Moira Keefe, to be held at the University Center Theater on Saturday, Nov. 9. Keefe will be performing Life Before Sex (A Short Life) and Life with a Teenager... I’m Having a Hot Flashback as a benefit for the New Crystal, which is currently living on skimpy funds generated from the liquidation of assets. Still, the theater’s schedule is stacked. Injury to One is slated for Saturday Nov. 9 at the Roxy. The film, which Polomski calls “top-notch filmmaking,” reconstructs the long-forgotten murder of union organizer Frank Little in Butte—introduced by Butte’s favorite poet, Ed Lahey.