Washington, DC

Photo by PoPville flickr user Nikoo’s Photos

Dear PoPville,

On Saturday, July 27, 2012, my partner and I decided to go to the Landmark E-Street Cinema in Washington, DC, on the Opening Day for the movie “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.” We bought tickets for the 5:30 PM showing.

The movie “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” is about Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and creator of the famous “Bird’s Nest” that was the focal point of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Ai Weiwei has been under intense scrutiny by the Chinese government for how he uses his art to draw attention to the abuses of freedoms and human rights in China. For me personally, I believe the movie is incredibly well produced. I felt myself being drawn into the story to the point where I was beginning to experience Ai Weiwei’s living experience of being under constant surveillance by his own government. The movie is not only an excellent look inside the daily life of someone who dares to criticize the Chinese government, but on what it means to live in a society that does not value freedom of expression and speech.

About a hour into the movie, a woman came into our darkened theater, and went the opposite side of the room from the door, squatted down, and manipulated something in a large bag. She then stood up, placed the bag into an empty seat next to where we were sitting and quickly ran out of the theater. Then, a minute later, she re-entered the theater, retrieved the the bag again, went back to the side wall, manipulated something inside the bag again, and then replaced the bag again in the seat next to us. She then ran out of the theater for the second time.

Continues after the jump.

My partner said to me that he felt uncomfortable with this, especially given the subject of the movie. I immediately got up to go get a theater manager to report this suspicious activity. I was met in the lobby by a young woman, who had already left the theater ahead of me to report her own concerns about this. This young woman was describing what she saw happening. To her, she could see that the strange woman was playing with a computer or some other electronic device. Upon hearing this, my anxiety really began to rise. I explained to the theater attendant that we needed a manger to address this immediately. I explained how uncomfortable I was with this since this was a politically charged movie.

Not only was I being extra aware of my surroundings following the recent theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado, but I also live in a city where I am being constantly bombarded by messages on buses, metro trains, at airports, and whenever I enter a federal building to report bags that are left unattended. I also could not help but think, with the politically sensitive subject matter of the movie, with this being the movie’s opening day, that perhaps someone wanted to shut-down this film through some sort of terrorist act. A critic might think I was being paranoid, but the film is about Chinese government suppression of dissidents and is intensely graphic at points.

The theater staff did not seem to be prepared to handle such a complaint. Staff hurried around, but no manager arrived and the staff member we were speaking to did not want to leave his post. Eventually I was told that someone had gone in to retrieve the bag. Feeling satisfied that someone was finally doing something about this, I returned to the particular theater where the movie was being shown only to meet another staff member outside the door who told me that they were waiting for the owner to show up first. Wondering if this bag contained a bomb, I thought that the owner was not about to show up. So I re-entered the theater and told my partner we needed to leave immediately.

Once outside the E-Street Cinema, when I had cell phone coverage again, I began to call 911 to report a safety threat. The manager finally met me outside on the sidewalk with the woman who owned the bag. I stopped calling 911 and explained how I felt the E-Street cinema was not taking its customer’s security concerns seriously enough. It also concerned me that the owner of the bag was an Asian woman and I could not help but wonder if this was someone sent by the Chinese government to sabotage this film on its opening day in Washington, DC.

It was explained to me that this woman frequents the E-Street Cinema all the time, as if she must therefore be harmless. I looked right at her and said, “You have got to be the stupidest person in the world for what you did.” Arguably, I was so shaken by the event that I could not easily accept the manager’s explanations as a solution to what happened. The woman took great offense at my comment, as did the manager of the E-Street Cinema. He said I could not talk to his customers this way. Eventually I just walked away.

This manager obviously does not take the security concerns of his customers seriously, especially with the recent event in Aurora, Colorado. Nor does he understand the concern someone might have of an unattended bag left by a suspicious person in a dark theatre.


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