The organizers of the Summer Film Series at San Juan Community Theatre send along a preview of this week’s film. The showing starts at 7 p.m. Admission is pay-what-you-can. For this season only, fresh popcorn is available for free.
Documentary — rated PG
Run time: 2 hours
This is truly my favorite movie of the year — and maybe the best film I’ve ever shown. At Horn & Hardart’s height, it was the largest restaurant chain in the United States with 150 locations — this despite being in just two cities, New York and Philadelphia — and with 800,000 people a day eating there. The director and producer, Lisa Hurwitz, takes a terrific subject and treats it with undisguised and justified affection. In addition to interviews with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell, Elliot Gould, and Howard Schultz, we hear from former employees, social historians, even the great-grandson of one of the cofounders. There’s a wealth of news footage and period photographs.
Even more interesting is the role automats played in shaping 20th century America — welcoming immigrants, the poor (its heyday coincided with the Great Depression), Hollywood and Broadway stars, young and old — offering them quality food at affordable prices, and treating them with respect. Employees were also valued. The company arranged picnics and holiday parties, with gifts for each child, and helped pay for medical care. This is the story of America at its best. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could recapture that magic?
Finally, there is the producer and director herself. You must come just to hear how this movie came to be. I met Lisa while getting permission to screen the film and will share her story before the screening. Thanks to Alice Acheson for insisting we include this film.