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‘Serenity’ Back Again — Can’t Stop It

June 19, 2008

By Rosemary Ford, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

Jun. 19–A three-year-old film showing, with sellout audiences in an art house?

Strange but true.

This weekend the 2005 sci-fi/western “Serenity” will make its way back to theaters across the country. When it was originally released, the movie based on the short-lived Fox show “Firefly” grossed about $38 million worldwide, just shy of its $40 million budget.

Yet, this film comes out of hibernation once every year around this time — often enjoying sell-out screenings around the world. In fact, two years of sellout screenings at the 450-seat Coolidge Corner theater in Boston means that this year, “Serenity” will have two midnight screenings this weekend at the landmark cinema.

“Last year we were turning people away at the door,” said Shelley Hachman of Billerica, one of the organizers of the screening, noting that a few brave souls showed up at 8 p.m. to get good seats for the midnight show.

What’s the deal? “Can’t Stop the Serenity.”

In this case the title is both the name of the event and a bit of a battle cry for fans. It’s also a rallying point for the legions who love the work of “Serenity” creator Joss Whedon, the man behind “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.”

The most die-hard “Serenity” fans formed the militia-esque New England Browncoats, the organization running this screening. Those who loved the movie weren’t happy when “Firefly” was canceled, weren’t happy when the movie exited and entered theaters with so little fanfare and weren’t happy that it seemed the film wouldn’t have a sequel.

In some sense, the disgruntled feel as if hosting these screenings and drumming up new fans are ways to thumb their noses at those who didn’t give this movie what they felt was its due, hence the “Can’t Stop the Serenity.”

However, the name also applies to the charity this movie is raising funds for: Equality Now. The international organization works for women’s rights around the world, working with other groups to stop forced prostitution and honor killings. Fans hope to raise enough money to stop these horrors, all around the world.

“I love being in fandom for Joss Whedon,” Hachman said. “The cause itself to me is more important to men than fandom. Having been in the military myself, I believe in freedom. I believe young girls have a right not to live in fear, not to worry every day of their lives.”

So far, these screenings by communities of fans in 42 U.S. cities and five other countries have raised more than $160,000 in the last two years.

“It’s been an amazing gift,” Equality Now Executive Director Taina Bien-Aime said. “The generosity that Joss Whedon fans have shown to Equality Now has been touching and unprecedented. … We had no idea he had such a powerful fan base.”

Whedon became connected to the charity through his mother — a former teacher who founded the first high school chapter of Amnesty International. One of her students from that class went on to start Equality Now, more than 10 years ago. The group recently honored Whedon for his support as well as his work to show empowering images of women in film and television.

“We would love to clone Joss Whedon,” Bien-Aime said.

According to Hachman, fans expected to raise around $10,000 to $15,000 the first year these charity screenings were held in 2006. Yet, with a few screenings fans raised about $60,000. When fans passed the $100,000 last year, Hachman said everyone was truly shocked.

“I don’t think anybody realized what we can do,” she said, attributing the success for the organized legion of Whedon fans. “It’s almost like an artform at point.”

This year, they hope to raise $150,000 at the June screenings, which take place in conjunction with Whedon’s birthday. While the goal is high, the international “Can’t Stop the Serenity” organizer Elizabeth Nelson of Austin, Texas, thinks it can be met.

“I would love to see the events expand and grow,” she said.

Local organizer Dave Adams of Seekonk believes that half of the 450 people who came to the Boston screening last year were die-hard fans who’ve seen the movie before and probably own a copy on DVD. He believes the other half just wanted to check out the film and possibly help out Equality Now.

The atmosphere at the screenings is a bit unusual — borrowing from the film’s combination of sci-fi, American western and Asian anime comic, people can wear silk Neru collar jackets, parasols or walk in with flowing coats and something resembling a six-shooter strapped to their hips. A strolling fiddler wouldn’t be unusual.

“We have a lot of fun,” Adams said. “It’s a unique social event.”

Those who come toting nonperishable food items will be entered into a raffle. This year’s raffle includes film props and other prizes. More than 1,000 pounds of food was collected last year, and more is hoped for this year. Organizers donate this food to the Greater Boston Food Bank, which also distributes food here in the Merrimack Valley.

“We really believe in the power of the individual,” Bien-Aime said. “This is another example of the power the individual has to make change.”

If you go

What: Can’t Stop the Serenity

When: Friday, June 20, and Saturday, June 21, at midnight

Where: Coolidge Corner theater, 290 Harvard St., Brookline

Admission: $10. Advance tickets available through the Web site recommended.

Web site: http://cstsboston.blogspot.com/

About “Firefly”

Created by: Joss Whedon

Aired on: Fox in 2002

Starred: Nathan Fillion (before his “Desperate Housewives” stint) as Capt. Malcolm Reynolds; Gina Torres as his first officer; Alan Tudyk as Wash, the pilot; Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb, security; Jewel Staite as Kaylee, the ship mechanic; Sean Maher as Dr. Simon Tam, ship’s doctor; Summer Glau as River, his sister; and Morena Baccarin, as Inara, the ship’s frequent traveler/companion

Concept: Set 500 years in the future, the crew of the spaceship Serenity travels the galaxy trying to earn a living while avoiding trouble with the authorities. The future is ruled by the Anglo-Sino Alliance, the last great superpower. Characters often switch from Chinese to English in dialogue.

About “Serenity”

Created by: Joss Whedon

Released: 2005

Starred: Nathan Fillion (before his “Desperate Housewives” stint) as Capt. Malcolm Reynolds; Gina Torres as his first officer; Alan Tudyk as Wash, the pilot; Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb, security; Jewel Staite as Kaylee, the ship mechanic; Sean Maher as Dr. Simon Tam, ship’s doctor; Summer Glau as River, his sister; and Morena Baccarin, as Inara, the ship’s frequent traveler/companion

Concept: Continuation of TV series. The crew must protect itself from an alliance plot to reshape the universe in their image

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