PORT TOWNSEND — To mark Martin Luther King Day this Monday, Rose Theatre owner Rocky Friedman will return to an annual tradition: Showing a civil rights-relevant movie in person for free as a gift to the community.
“MLK/FBI” is 2022’s film, to light the big screen at the Rose, 235 Taylor St., at 1 p.m. Monday.
Tickets — maximum two per person — are available free at the Rose box office; they also can be reserved at www.rosetheatre.com with a $1.50 per-ticket charge online.
The documentary, made by Emmy-winning director Sam Pollard, uses recently unsealed materials from the National Archives, documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and restored archival footage to tell a true story: from the late 1950s through the ’60s, the FBI spied on and harassed Martin Luther King Jr. as he rose to prominence.
The surveillance started with wiretapping the civil rights leader, and it intensified from there.
Pollard, nominated for an Oscar for his 1987 film “Eyes on the Prize,” shows how the FBI went in to bug King’s hotel rooms before he arrived.
Upon discovery of extramarital affairs, the bureau hires spies to inform on King, seeking to discredit his stature as a Christian minister and leader.
The FBI’s plan, Pollard says, was to get the news media to report on it all. But at the time, journalists didn’t do stories about the private dalliances of public figures. President John F. Kennedy was another example.
Both J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director from 1924 to 1972, and James Comey, the bureau’s chief from 2013 to 2017, appear in “MLK/FBI.”
Friedman cited the Los Angeles Times film critic’s comment that this movie manages to be conversant with “the injustices of the present, without ever deviating from the injustices of the past.”
Only 31 tickets for “MLK/FBI” had been reserved by Wednesday morning, he added. COVID-19 has kept many moviegoers at home, even as Friedman feels he’s showing worthwhile films and taking precautions. All patrons must show photo ID and proof of full vaccination at the door; masks also are required inside the theaters.
“With all good reasons, people are hesitant about returning to the theater,” Friedman said.
He added with a rueful laugh that, in terms of social distancing, “now is actually a safe time to go to the movies. You can have a whole row to yourself,” as screenings are drawing 15 or 20 patrons.
The Rose also has built an online library of movies for home streaming. Films in six genres, from music documentaries to comedies, can be found on the website, with Friedman adding titles every week.
“I personally love doing it,” he said of stoking the library with films such as “City Lights,” “In Balanchine’s Classroom” and “Being Julia.”
As for the Martin Luther King Day movie, which brings in no revenue, “I never really thought of not doing it,” he said.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] dailynews.com.