Amherst Cinema lands $17,500 NEA grant

  • Amherst Cinema FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/12/2021 11:08:47 AM

AMHERST — The Amherst Cinema has been awarded a $17,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to continue a movie series that’s dedicated to screening films offering new approaches to narrative and storytelling.

The NEA funding is called an Arts Work Grant, which according to the cinema is dedicated to projects focused on public engagement and which also aim to integrate the arts “into the fabric of community life.”

More specifically, the NEA grant will be earmarked for Amherst Cinema’s “Bellwether: New Directions in Cinema,” a program that began about five years ago during summer and now runs mostly year-round. The series primarily features documentaries that are screened at film festivals and small movie houses, said George Myers, the cinema’s general manager and the series programmer.

“We choose films that deserve a larger audience and try to elevate them, give them a spotlight,” he said. “They’re often on subjects you don’t hear about, or they present stories in a new and different way.”

This is the second year in a row NEA has awarded funding to Amherst Cinema for the Bellwether series.

“It is such an honor to be chosen again,” Myers said. “It’s a very competitive process, and we’re really grateful for the funding.”

Overall, NEA grants totaling about $25 million were awarded to 1,073 projects across the country, according to Amherst Cinema.

The Bellwether series began about five years ago as a collaboration with Hampshire College during the summer, Myers notes, when the college was sponsoring a film workshop that brought various directors to the school. Amherst Cinema arranged to have the directors’ films screened at the movie house and have the directors speak with audiences after the screenings.

That established the template for the series, Myers said, and in some ways, the pandemic has made the model easier to manage. The cinema has been making its films available for streaming ever since the pandemic arrived, and now some film directors who might not have been able to visit the cinema personally can be more easily engaged for an online Q&A with viewers.

Those online discussions for films have proven to be very popular so far, said Myers, who moderates the sessions.

“It’s great opportunity to hear how a film was put together,” he said. “I’ve learned so much myself.”

The Bellwether series continues Feb. 12-25 with “KELLY LOVES TONY,” a documentary about two Southeast Asia teens living in Oakland, California who are dealing with a complicated relationship and their experience as immigrants. Director Spencer Nakasako will join an online discussion about the film on Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.

More information on the program is available at

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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