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Craven: Change At The Movies

08/08/11 7:55AM By Jay Craven
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Portrait by Todd R. Lockwood
(HOST)  During hot weather, filmmaker and commentator Jay Craven finds himself indulging in the summer pleasures of swimming holes - and air-conditioned movie theaters.

(CRAVEN) I recently saw this summer's movie juggernaut - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and liked it. I found Part 1 cheerless, confusing, and a bit over the top. But the new film takes on dramatic weight as Harry embraces his own mortality, overcomes fear, deepens his capacity for love, and gains new strength to fight off the demons who threaten him, his comrades, and his beloved Hogwarts school.

I like the eternally loyal trio of Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Harry - and can't help but see how these sturdy companions have become role models to young people. To say nothing of how the Harry Potter books have prompted millions of kids to read. So, hurray for the whole series that created and sustained a cultural moment. This final installment marks the end of an era.

Then I saw another less commercial film that also charts the end of an era. "Page One: Inside the New York Times" opens with a scene of the Times' press room - as workmen move giant rolls of newsprint en route to becoming tomorrow's paper. I found myself moved by this sight of ink and newsprint and panel trucks lined up to whisk the days news to corner kiosks, grocery stores, and kids on bikes poised to speed down city and suburban streets.

As important newspapers have folded - and others have shut their foreign bureaus and slashed their staffs, I've marveled at how the Times remains the most important media organization in journalism. I rely on the paper's detailed and up-to-date narrative of incident, character, and place - and its thoughtful range of opinion - that can simultaneously inform, stimulate, and aggravate me on any given day.

"Page One" isn't a great film - it suffers from a haphazard structure and I wish it had dug more deeply into the complexities of "getting the story." But the documentary shows how the Times remains alive to the moment, even as it's battled its way back from the Jason Blair plagiarism scandal, its phony pre-war reports on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the digital revolution, and a faltering economy.

And I found myself again moved by the film's final images, where, just weeks after announcing painful staff reductions, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller appears on an open staircase in the midst of the paper's vast newsroom.

A chill went down my spine as Keller shared that morning's announcement that the paper had been awarded five Pulitzer Prizes - for subjects ranging from the struggles in Afghanistan and Pakistan - to conflicts of interest among military analysts who help TV networks cover the wars.

I couldn't help but be absorbed by this glimpse behind the scenes of a great paper struggling in a changing world to do what it does best as an essential but fragile practitioner for the democratic exercise of a free press - that still has enough clout to make a difference.
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