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Monday Night at the Movies

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May 27, 2024

Film starts at 7:00 p.m.
Doors open at 6:00 p.m.

Tickets - $10 each
Available at the door
Meridian Centre for the Arts
Greater Fort Erie Secondary School
1640 Garrison Road

Fort Erie, Ontario

Please note that the pack of 3 tickets
for $25 have been discontinued.  May 27th will be the last chance to redeem these 3 for $25 tickets. They will not be honoured at future
Monday Night at the Movies 

Refreshments are provided courtesy of The Crystal Ball Beach Cafe located at 4208 Erie Road, Crystal Beach.

Movie content advisory: depictions of racism; violence; coarse language

Eighty-seven-year-old filmmaker Ken Loach's "The Old Oak" is about how changing demographics in a struggling English town called Durham manifest in a crumbling old pub, the last public space that everyone claims as their own. This is Loach's latest and (according to Loach) final motion picture, and it feels like a summation. It's as engrossing, thoughtful, heartfelt, angry, hopeful, and altogether valuable as his best work. If it is indeed Loach's farewell, it's one hell of a fine note to go out on. 

There are almost always scenes in Loach's films where a group of locals gathers in a shared space to argue about issues that affect all of them. The space here is the bar of the title, owned and operated by TJ Ballantyne (Dave Turner). TJ assists a local charity spearheaded by Laura (Claire Rodgerson) that gives donated furniture and other household items to Syrian war refugees. TJ is a goodhearted and tough but depressed man who lost his wife and son many years ago and dotes on his little dog. He has grown increasingly disenchanted with his core group of patrons, a bunch of men his age who blame immigrants for a decline in living standards that predates the newcomers' arrival by decades. 

The film begins, like many Loach movies, by dropping you into the middle of a conflict. A group of Syrians have arrived in town by bus and are being harassed by white locals (some of whom apparently aren't even from the neighbourhood; hate tourists, basically). One of the new arrivals is teenaged Yara (Ebla Mari), a budding photojournalist who shoots the old-fashioned way, on 35mm film. She documents her family's arrival, including their harassment by the xenophobes telling them to go back to a war zone that's already shattered their spirits (Yara's father is missing and presumed dead). One of the bullies steals Yara's camera and turns it on the newcomers and then, when confronted, gleefully drops it on the pavement, breaking it. 

This sparks the beginning of Yara's relationship with TJ, which forms the backbone of "The Old Oak" and unites the different story strands—and the fractured community as well. TJ invites Yara into the back room of his bar, which hasn't been used in decades due to plumbing and electrical problems, and offers her a replacement 35mm camera from a collection that once belonged to his late uncle, who took photos of the town's mining heyday that hang framed on the walls. 

One of the many remarkable things about "The Old Oak" is how it allows us to see and feel everyone's point of view, including the perspectives of characters who are mainly looking for human targets to direct their formless frustrations at, and are wrong on the merits.

Exhibit A is the locals who blame immigrants for a gradual economic decline that's the fault of ruthless corporations and the post-Thatcher government, not immigrants. A couple of important early scenes feature one of the bar regulars, Charlie (Trevor Fox), grousing that local homes are being bought up cheaply by faceless foreign corporations that are looking to rent them or turn them into Air B&Bs, and that don't even have the basic courtesy to send a human into the town to look at the properties they're vacuuming up. Meanwhile, he and his wife scramble to pay the upkeep on their own home. They are trapped, economically unable to either stay put or sell. You get why Charlie would be furious and, in his zeal for scapegoats, would cast a wide net that pulls in not just the newcomers but the people trying to make their resettlement less painful.

It's unreasonable on its face that anyone should be mad at TJ and Laura for bringing donated items to war refugees (they exemplify Christian values far more than the xenophobes and racists who mock newcomers for being brown and Muslim and joke about them being terrorists). But you can also see how the white citizens of Durham would resent their own kind helping newcomers while they themselves struggle through a life that's not as dire as what the refugees are dealing with but is still nothing to joke about.

The entire exercise often plays like a documentary record of actual events for which a camera happened to be present. You truly feel as if you're getting a slice of life. Often in Loach's films it's a bitter slice. That's not the case with "The Old Oak," a drama that has many troubling or devastating moments but barrels through them, and lets the characters emerge with shreds of hope for a better future. 

Excerpts from

This is our eighth and final Monday Night at the Movies
for the 2023 - 2024 Season.
We are excited to have you back for another year of great films, selected from the Toronto International Film Festival catalogue.  

Monday Night at the Movies gratefully acknowledges our partnership with Film Circuit, presented by TIFF, and its sponsors and supporters

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