Giving thanks for James Agee on his 110th birthday

Betsy PickleOur Town Arts

How do you honor a Knoxville icon on the 110th anniversary of his birth? Well, if it’s James Agee, you celebrate his work in film.

That’s what Central Cinema, 1205 N. Central St., is doing with Agee, who was born in Knoxville on Nov. 27, 1909. The celebration kicks off at 7 tonight with a collaboration between Central Cinema and Knox County Public Library’s Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound.

Central Cinema’s monthly free “TAMIS Presents” screening is a 16mm double feature. First is “The Red Balloon” director Albert Lamorisse’s 1953 family-friendly short “White Mane,” for which Agee co-wrote the English narration. It’s the story of a boy determined to save a wild white stallion from being “broken” by adults.

Following is Ross Spears’s Academy Award-nominated 1980 documentary “Agee: A Sovereign Prince of the English Language.” The documentary will be shown on a freshly struck 16mm print from the personal collection of Spears, who went on to make the Agee-inspired “To Render a Life.”

Tonight’s screening is free and open to the public; seating is first-come, first-served.

Although Agee spent much of his youth at boarding schools, he did attend Knoxville High School for one year, and his hometown figured prominently in his novel “A Death in the Family,” which was published posthumously and received the Pulitzer Prize.

The Agee celebration continues this weekend with three screenings of “The Night of the Hunter,” starring an unsettling Robert Mitchum. Agee and director Charles Laughton are credited with the screenplay. Shows will be at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Rounding out the festivities is the world premiere of documentarian Richard Dindo’s “A Death in the Family,” which was cast and shot in Knoxville last year. The film will be screened at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27, with the Swiss director in attendance.

Dindo will also be on hand for the showing of his documentaries “Gaugin in Tahiti and the Marquesas” and “Mars Dreamers” on Monday, Nov. 25, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., respectively.

Betsy Pickle is a veteran entertainment, features and news reporter best known as the longtime film critic for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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