How could a holiday film festival be better than one with a train to the North Pole, planes and automobiles, the grown man who was an elf, scurrying Gremlins, a big old green Grinch, the nutty people from National Lampoon and the kid with the Red Ryder rifle who is certain to shoot his eye out?
That’s the colorful Hopewell Theater’s Holiday Film Fest, that opens Saturday, December 18 in Hopewell, N.J. (5 So. Greenwood Ave.) and runs through December 30, snow or no snow.
The festival is aimed at kids and families, with most screenings in the afternoon and most films with a kid and kid-at-heart theme to them.
The Hopewell Theater, home to plays and numerous live musical events, is the perfect Christmas home, too, because it spent most of its long life as a movie theater. What better for a movie theater than a movie festival?
The theater itself re-opened in 2017. The first holiday film festival debuted in 2018 and was repeated in 2019. The theater was closed last year because of the Pandemic, and this year’s festival is the third. The theater is bouncing back from the pandemic like gifts of bouncing balls under a huge green Christmas tree.
“We are hoping this becomes a Christmas tradition in the area,” said Kendra Thatcher, the head of programming for the Hopewell Theater. “It’s a full family tradition, too. We get kids, their parents and even their grandparents.”
How do Kendra Thatcher and her colleagues select the movies? They go right to favorites. “We keep charts each year of which movies we show are favorites and then bring most of them back the next year. Gremlins, as an example, is a huge favorite with everybody,” she said.
It’s hard to pick movies and even harder because a Christmas Festival is limited to, well, the Christmas season. “I wish we could show more Christmas films, but we can’t.”
Thatcher’s own favorite? “I can’t name one, but on the top of my list is Gremlins, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and It’s a Wonderful Life. I think they are near the top of everybody’s list.”
The lineup is Polar Express, Saturday at 1, A Christmas Story, Saturday at 4, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Sunday at 2, Gremlins, December 26 at 2, Planes Trains and Automobiles, December 29 at 4:30, Elf, December 29 at 7 and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, December 30 at 7.
At first, the movies seem an odd group. Thatcher smiles. “Think about them. As an example, people remember Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but don’t remember that it is a holiday film, which it certainly is,” she said. “Others are true favorites. Years ago, television used to run a 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story during the holiday season. It will always be on television.”
A Christmas Story is the beloved small city tale of a little kid, Ralphie, in a nutty, stressed-out family who desperately wants Red Ryder rifle for Christmas, even though everybody tells him he’ll “shoot his eye out” with it.
Ralphie’s family is crazy? What about Chevy Chase and his family in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, in which they decide not to travel for Christmas? They stay home for a quiet holiday and all hell breaks loose amid the Christmas lights and songs.
Not just the house, but the whole town goes goofy in Gremlins when a dad’s holiday gift, an odd little creature called the “mogwai,” turns the village topsy turvy. Jim Carrey as the Grinch turns a town upside down, too, when he tries to steal everything, and anything connected to Christmas.
In Trains, Planes and Automobiles, nothing goes wrong at all until a plane headed home for the Thanksgiving holiday is forced to land in a snowstorm and Seve Martin has to bunk with John Candy. Can anyone imagine a night with those two?
Thatcher thinks the Hopewell theater’s film fest will become an icon at Christmas. “You know It’s a Wonderful Life is going to be on TV sometime in November or December. It’s just a matter of what channel. That’s what we’d like to do here – be here for people every year during the holidays.”
It seems only right that the Hopewell Theater is now the home of a holiday movie festival since it has been home to just about everything else in its 141-year history. It opened in 1880 as Columbia Hall, a vaudeville house, and kept its doors open through the end of the Depression in 1939. The building was then demolished and a new structure, the Colonial Playhouse, a two-story building, was erected in its place. The second floor of the playhouse served as a movie theater. The first floor was home to the town’s fire department and Borough Council. Pollster George Gallup bought the building in the early 1960s and for years it served as one of his national polling centers. It was sold to the Thick family in 1984 and run as a movie house by them until 2014. It was shut down and then re-opened in 2017. Today, it is full of Gremlins and Grinches.
Masks are required for all moviegoers at the holiday festival.
So is a belief in Santa.