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Library invites all to watch and debate

Ann Scott knows she's facing a challenge. A big one.

Ms. Scott is in charge of special programs at New Port Richey Library. It's her job to put together library-type events and then persuade people to attend them.

Her most recent event was a triumph: simultaneous showings of the political movies Fahrenheit 9/11 and Fahrenhype 9/11, the anti- and pro-Bush movies, in hopes of sparking interest in political debate. More than 200 people came to see them.

By good fortune, the films ran the same day that President Bush was in New Port Richey, so there was a built-in audience.

"We had some good discussions afterward," Ms. Scott said.

The library's upcoming special event/project is much more complicated, and it's probably going to be a harder sell. Ms. Scott has named it "Common Threads _ a Year Exploring Diversity and Human Rights."

The centerpiece is the Human Rights Video Project, a series of 13 documentary films sponsored by the American Library Association on the subject of human rights around the world. New Port Richey is one of only five libraries in the entire state chosen to present these films.

Once or twice each month, the library will show one of the films at 6 p.m., then hold discussions about them.

I went to a preview Wednesday and saw snippets from each of the documentaries.

They aren't Meet the Fockers.

In fact, most of them are pretty much downers. After all, the world can be a pretty nasty place.

"I watched all of them (when I was) putting this sneak peek together, and I got pretty emotional," Ms. Scott said. At one point, she simply had to stop watching.

The subject matter ranges from the near-slave labor making clothes for the big-name labels to school bullying to gay rights issues.

So why would people go see such cheerless films, then sit around and talk about them?

"You have the opportunity to celebrate your status as a world citizen and to nurture your awareness of human rights issues," the promotional brochure says.

Sounds nice, but is that enough to get people away from Law and Order or the latest phony "reality" show?

It could happen, especially if thoughtful people with differing viewpoints show up _ like they did for the Fahrenheit/Hype films _ so there can be some genuine debate and some real thinking.

By having "theme" months and adding some pleasant activities, Ms. Scott is hoping that is what happens.

For Black History Month in February, for example, there's a commemorative march from the library, dubbed "Selma," to Sims Park (Montgomery), where we'll hear Negro spirituals on Feb. 19. The films are Every Mother's Son (the brutal deaths of young black men at the hands of police on Feb. 1) and Long Night's Journey into Day (reconciliation in South Africa on Feb. 28).

Future programs celebrate Women's History Month and explore child abuse prevention, health issues, gay pride, parenting, banned books, domestic violence, AIDS and overall human rights. It's a wide-ranging human rights education spread out over a year.

On the surface, they look like pretty simple subjects. Dig deeper, and they become more complex.

It's easy to say, "No more immigration" or "stop exporting our jobs."

But what about people who would be killed if they went back to their native country, the people we meet in Well-Founded Fear on May 23? And what about economic refugees, who may starve in their own countries? On the other hand, what about overcrowding and competition for our jobs?

Exported jobs are just as complicated. Don't they take jobs away from Americans? But those exported jobs give work to people in other countries. But then, what if those people are exploited (Behind the Labels). Should we boycott? And if we do, will it leave a foreign family without work and in poverty?

And who hasn't enjoyed getting a nice pair of foreign-made shoes for $8 at the local discount store?

What's the ideal? To work toward equal treatment and pay for everyone around the globe? But wouldn't that lower the living standard in the United States? But then, why should people here live better than most of the other people in the world? Or is equality for all edging toward, gasp, communism?

What about Books, Not Bars (Sept. 26), which asserts that if we spent more money on education instead of jails, "the U.S. could drastically reduce the level of incarceration." That's a huge assumption. Can it be proved? If so, how?

I'll preview each month's films and activities in Friday's Steppin' Out section a couple of weeks before they happen, with times, dates and details. Brochures are available at the library, 5939 Main St., New Port Richey.

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The defunct Angel Cabaret Theatre is being resurrected as the Center Stage Theatre and Performing Arts Academy. The owner is Debbie Snyder, and dance teachers are Chelle St. Pierre and Lynn Regan, all frequent Angel performers. Drama instructor will be Diane Rogers, who teaches drama at River Ridge High School and played in Les Miserables on Broadway.

The center will have classes for all ages and will do shows now and then. There's an open house from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday for those who want to see how the place has been changed and/or to sign up for classes. It's at 5201 U.S. 19, New Port Richey.