Photo: Courtesy of Janus Films
The Passion of Joan of Arc, part of Public Domain Day at Row House Cinema
Disney notoriously loves to sue the pants off of anyone who dares violate its properties, even if those properties didn't originally come from them — in 1989, the mega-corporation went so far as to stop the erection of a Winnie-the-Pooh statue in a small Canadian town
tied to the real-life bear that inspired author A.A. Milne's classic children's character.
Thanks to the public domain, however, Disney lost exclusive rights to Milne's Hundred Acre Wood in 2022, meaning that anyone can now adapt the original stories and characters. Even Disney's original characters are going the way of Winnie, something that will become apparent when Row House Cinema hosts its first Public Domain Day
Taking place on Jan. 1, 2024, the event features films from 1928, which, as a press release points out, will enter the public domain in the new year. The lineup includes a silent adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher
and The Passion of Joan of Arc
, director Carl Theodor Dreyer's celebrated take on the historic French heroine.
Also on the docket, perhaps, is Walt Disney's Steamboat Willie
. The nearly eight-minute-long, black-and-white cartoon introduced what would become the Disney company's official mascot, Mickey Mouse, a fact that makes the film's entry into the public domain a huge deal.
“We might have to slip a screening or two of Steamboat Willie
into Public Domain Day,” said Row House owner Brian Mendelssohn. “I mean, how could we not?”
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios
Given Disney's trigger-happy legal reputation, Mendelssohn's hesitation seems justified, despite the company giving up on retaining rights over Willie. In a recent Associated Press story
, a Disney spokesperson acknowledged the expiration of the Steamboat Willie
copyright while stressing that the change will not apply to "more modern versions" of Mickey Mouse.
If the whole public domain law thing still seems confusing, the Row House event will also include live introductions from experts on film and copyright law.
Besides taking advantage of new publicly available properties, the day will, according to Mendelssohn, highlight that "1928 was huge for film." This statement applies to the inclusion of two other films set to enter the public domain, The Circus
and The Cameraman
, which were made, respectively, by pioneering silent-era filmmakers Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The Man Who Laughs
, a Victor Hugo adaptation regarded as one of the first horror films, will also screen.
Row House plans to make Public Domain Day an "annual fixture in its film program." Its launch will come at an affordable price, at $5-10 per film and $28 for the whole day.
"For us, this is a really cool way to look back on the early history of cinema,” said Mendelssohn. “Plus watching movies all day is a cozy and chill way to start the new year.”
Public Domain Day
. 12:20-8:25 p.m. Jan. 1, 2024. Row House Cinema. 4115 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $5-10, $28 all-day pass. rowhousecinemas.com