Is Donald Trump’s America turning into the movie “1984”? That was the question on the mind of many audiences who flocked to independent movie theaters in droves on Tuesday for special screenings of the film that were organized to protest Trump.
Nearly 200 theaters in the U.S. showed the film based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel from 1949, plus five theaters in Canada and a handful of locations in the U.K., Europe and New Zealand. We went to one packed screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in New York, where the crowd was more than willing to open up about the parallels between the movie’s dystopian world and the current state of the American government.
The one-day event organized by New York’s Cinema Arts Centre and the Avon Theatre Film Centre in Connecticut was organized in response to Trump’s proposed cuts to cultural programs, including the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. A portion of the proceeds are being donated to support charities like the American Civil Liberties Union.
Released in 1984 and directed by Michael Radford, “1984” depicts a totalitarian surveillance society in which the main character of Winston (John Hurt), a worker in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, is tasked with rewriting history. To escape the tyranny of Big Brother, Winston begins keeping a diary, an act punishable by death. His first entry, on April 4, 1984, was the inspiration to host the screenings of the film on Tuesday, April 4.
In New York City, all three screenings at the Film Society of Lincoln Center were sold out, as were the single showings at the Alamo Drafthouse, Anthology Film Archives and Nitehawk Cinema. Four of the IFC Center’s five screenings were also sold out, while the United Palace hosted a free screening. Attendance data from all theaters that played the film was not yet unavailable.
Why did moviegoers lineup to see the 33-year-old film in the theater? At the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Brooklyn, several audience members said they had never seen the film and were curious how much the “alternative facts” coming out of the White House would mirror the distorting of truth in the film.
“The movie is a little more extreme than what I’m seeing so far,” said teacher Phil Bouska, adding that the similarities between the Party in the film and the Trump administration did make him feel worse about present day America. “How could you feel better? Nothing makes you feel better about it.”
One audience member said that being in a packed theater with other individuals who came out in protest did make him feel encouraged about the resistance to Trump. “The conversation that is starting around this movie is kind of waking people up to what we see currently,” said Marc Polite, a writer from Manhattan. “We can’t just let things like this slide, so in a sense it shows that people are aware these things are going on.”
Samuel Abram, a musician from Brooklyn, said that the world depicted in the film reminded him of the sense of “permanent war” that has existed in America since the beginning of the War on Terror. “Some of what the movie has is more applicable to even more totalitarian countries than us, like North Korea.” he said, adding that the redacting of news articles is something that does exist today in the U.S. “That’s basically the internet.”
Jennifer Morris, a food programming worker in Vermont, said she was glad to have seen the film despite the fact that the experience was not entertaining.
“I was disturbed, but that’s kind of what I came for,” she said. “The idea that there is no objective truth or reality outside of what the Party decides — that’s reality. When they said that I was like, ‘No! It’s too real.'”