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1984: Revisited in Three Parts

Something interesting has happened since White House Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway stated back in January that the current administration was using “alternative facts”: sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984, have spiked by 9500%. That’s right: 9500%. And it became a #1 bestseller on Amazon. Additionally, 180 art theaters in 165 cities across the country, including Rivertown Film at the Nyack Center, have decided to show the movie.
All of these theaters will be screening it on the same day, a significant date in the book: April 4, which is the day the main character decides to start writing in a diary, a form of expression forbidden by his government.
If you’re not familiar with the story or forgot the details since you read it back in high school, 1984 depicts a government that makes up its own facts, rewrites history, requires complete obedience, and is in a constant state of war. It uses surveillance and propaganda to manipulate its citizens into believing that the tyrannical Big Brother is always watching.
Is this striking a chord for you? Well, apparently it is for a lot of other people, too, despite the fact that the book was written in 1949. According to the Washington Post, the publisher of the novel, Penguin, had to order 75,000 new copies of the book. I myself bought a new copy and can attest that it is especially disturbing to read right now, when free speech is being threatened and the National Endowment for the Arts is at risk of being dismantled according the initial budget proposal.
These kinds of concerns are what prompted an organization called United State of Cinema to organize this nationwide screening of the movie and what also inspired Kristina Burns of Festoon to bring it to Rivertown Film at the Nyack Center. After this screening, there will be a discussion led by Francis Wilkinson, a writer for Bloomberg.
This is actually a three-part event: Burns has also helped to organize a discussion of the book at Nyack Library, on April 24 at 7p, and an art exhibit at Festoon on Main Street, March 25-April 9, including 1984 themed pop-up projections around Nyack.
Burns feels it’s important to revisit this story right now because, “like many great works of art, its symbols and messages are intended as tools to help us recognize painful truths. In the case of 1984, ‘the truth’ it examines is the very nature, value, presence and function of ‘truth’.”
She continues, “When you have an administration asserting that 3-5 million people voted illegally, that they were wiretapped by the previous administration, that climate change is a Chinese hoax, and that the media is ‘the enemy of the people’ suddenly the line from 1984 ‘in the end the party would announce that 2+2= 5 and you would have to believe it’ doesn’t seem so far fetched and the ‘alternate facts’ of our current party sound eerily like the book’s invention of ‘newspeak’ or ‘doublethink.’”
Burns is also driven by her concern for the National Endowment for the Arts and what it will mean to our country if it is eliminated. It’s only a small percent of our nation’s budget, but these funds are spread throughout the country for arts programming and events that make a big difference.
“How many times has a book, a film, a painting, a play, a song, a poem stopped you in your tracks–shifted your perceptions, deepened your understanding of an elusive idea, of yourself, of your next door neighbor? If we, as a society, decide to save .007% of our annual budget by eliminating the only federal agency designed to facilitate and celebrate culture and creativity in every state and every congressional district of our country, who will act as our witnesses, who will tell our stories, what does that say about our values?” Burns says.
Besides, arts programming, she points out, can have a positive financial impact on communities. For example, once you have a successful theater in a town, you need a café, then a bookstore and then maybe a few more restaurants. And before you know it, you’re providing more jobs.
Burns is motivated by a lifetime in the arts, many years of activism, and a deep appreciation for the NEA and all the good work it has done. She is therefore committed to supporting the arts in our community in every possible way. Along these lines, proceeds for the screening of 1984 ($10 suggested donation) will, in turn, help to fund more arts programming, specifically a series of outdoor SUMMER FILMS, also put on by Rivertown Films. Selections for that series include Kinky Boots and The Wiz. Burns is thrilled by the way our community has rallied around this three-part project. In addition to Festoon, the event is sponsored by Rivertown Film, Nyack Library, Kiam Record Shop, Pickwick Book Shop, and the Village of Nyack.
So consider re-reading 1984, or checking it out for the first time. Pickwick Book Shop, Kiam Record Shop, and the Nyack Library are carrying extra copies in honor of this project. Orwell’s message is prescient; there is a lot to be learned from this dark tale. May it inspire all of us to do everything we can to keep free speech and the arts a cornerstone of our country and our communities.
As Burns says, “Maybe the only away for us to assess and contain our current crisis is to turn to the lessons of literature.”

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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