By KELLIE KOTRABA
The smell of popcorn will fill Lange Middle School’s cafetorium on Friday nights as students return to school for a night at the movies.
The school’s Cinema Club will begin its bi-weekly movie nights Friday, Sept. 17, starting with a showing for Lange students only. John Horton, Cinema Club director and writing teacher, said the school recently bought a $400 license to show movies for entertainment purposes.
Students will select the movies.
“This is not going to be something with some secret lesson, to teach us about the joys of math,” Horton said.
The license, which was purchased from Movie Licensing USA in St. Louis, includes movies from the top 20 studios, excluding FOX, Horton said.
The club will invite a different audience to each movie night. The first one is open to all Lange students. They plan to have sixth-grade night, seventh-grade night and family night. Later in the semester, they will invite residents of the surrounding neighborhood, reaching out to the community.
C. Bernard Solomon, Lange principal, said these movie nights fit into the school’s efforts to connect with the community. He looks forward to having people inside who would not ordinarily interact with the school.
“We can’t operate in isolation,” Solomon said.
A sudden burst in membership numbers has prompted Horton to change the focus of the club from film making to film viewing. In past years, club membership has been fewer than 10, but this year, Horton said there are about 100 — a shock to him.
Two former club members will return to Cinema Club to help. Now in eighth grade at Oakland Junior High School, Taj Butler and Lauren Schulz, 13, will attend club meetings every Wednesday.
“We made a pact — me and my friends and Mr. H. — that we would come help with Cinema Club,” Taj said.
Taj is looking forward to helping the new club members learn about the cinematic principles with which she is so familiar. She sees the shift in focus from film making to film viewing as beneficial.
“It’s going to get those kids who really want to be there to be there, not just the ones who want to be onstage,” Taj said.
Club members are working to define the criteria they will use to select the films as they learn about cinematic principles, such as lighting and camera angles.
“I want to expose them to great films,” Horton said.
Although quality is a key factor, Horton said having the students select the films ensures that they will have entertainment appeal, as well.
Cinema Club is responsible for every aspect of movie nights, including setting up, ushering, selling concessions, and cleaning up. The club will make its money from concessions, such as nachos, hot dogs and popcorn. They will use the concession equipment that formerly belonged to athletics, which became intramurals this year.
“They are excited about being responsible,” Horton said.
Horton said the club will charge $2 per ticket until the license is paid off. After that, they will suggest recommended donations for admission. The money will be given to the PTA, or another organization or charity. When the school has its annual food drive in mid-October, the club will charge one can of food for admission.
The school will not publicly announce the names of films in advance, in accordance with licensing policies. Students will be informed, and people can call the school and ask.
All films will be rated G or PG. For concerned parents, Horton said he recommends Kids in Mind, a website that offers parent-targeted reviews and a detailed description of movie content.
Cinema Club started seven years ago with Horton’s efforts to help his students understand what they were reading.
“They could get every little body language cue they could get from a film, but they could read something hilarious, and nobody would laugh,” Horton said.
He began having them act out scenes from books, and suddenly, they understood. He and the students enjoyed it so much that it became an after school activity that included watching and discussing films. Eventually, they were making their own movies.
Last year’s participants wrote a 40-page script. They served as crew, support and principal actors, and they recruited friends to fill other acting roles. Taj said they finished filming because they could not get enough extras for one of their large scenes. Horton said they also had difficulties getting some of the primary cast together.
Two years ago, the same group of girls created a horror film, “What Fools Believe,” inspired by Robert A. Arthur’s “Do You Believe in Ghosts.”
Even with the shift in focus, Taj said she hopes club members understand that cinema involves much more than the product they see on the screen.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into it,” Taj said. “A lot of sweat, a lot of participation and patience.”