Where a Home is Not a House

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Watching “Nomadland,” as I did the other day, was an experience I will never forget. And not just because the movie was exceptionally good.

For the first time in a year, I was “going to the movies,” as opposed to “watching a movie on my laptop” or “hooking up my laptop to my big-screen TV.” At least, I hadn’t succumbed to watching a movie on my smartphone; I’m old enough to think I should take some pride in that.

Yes, I was glad to be back at Trillium, which was (and still is, as I was delighted to remember) just around the corner from my home in Grand Blanc Township. I was masked-up, socially distanced and ready to rock! I didn’t even mind the ten minutes of introductory trailers and ads because they reminded me of less stressful times.

Again, it helped that the movie was worth the trouble. I could have streamed “Nomadland” on Hulu, but I would have missed the impact of the gorgeous scenery that accompanies the principal character, played by Frances McDormand, on her odyssey through the American West.

Based on the best-selling book by Jessica Bruder, “Nomadland” describes an unusual but growing subculture of forgotten people: older folks who are homeless mainly by necessity and who (by choice or not) adopt transient lifestyles. McDormand’s character, the widow of a mine worker, exemplifies the typical “vandweller” by getting by on seasonal work throughout the West while living in her vehicle in small parks populated by fellow travelers.

David Strathairn is the only other “name” in the cast, which prominently includes some real-life nomads. Besides giving this touching film a semi-documentary feel, they remind us that people may be houseless, but are never really homeless. “Nomadland” has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture and best director (Chloé Zhao, who also edited and scripted).

As the closing credits appeared and the lights came up, I was happy to have returned to the special, shared experience of filmgoing – even if there were only three other people in the theater. Baby steps!

As we await the fate of “Nomadland” at the Academy Awards ceremony April 25, we can visit our local theaters – or enjoy the virtual screenings this month at the Flint Institute of Arts.

The FIA’s Friends of Modern Art series will present two American documentaries: “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life” (April 2-4), the story of the renowned neurologist and author, and “Heartworn Highways” (April 9-11), a revival of the iconic 1976 documentary about “outlaw” country musicians such as Guy Clark, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt.

The great Catherine Deneuve stars in a re-screening of 2010 French workplace comedy “Potiche” (April 16-18), and “The Film Critic” (April 23-25) is a playful romcom from Argentina. Wrapping up the month (April 30 through May 2) will be “Transit,” a haunting French-set thriller that depicts an alternate reality of sorts to World War II.

For more information on FIA screenings, check flintarts.org. Until the FIA Theater reopens, screenings will continue virtually, and patrons can buy tickets conveniently through the website.

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