Arlington Citizen-Journal

Former assistant police chief launches Arlington Film Society

James Hawthorne, 55, recently organized the Arlington Film Society’s first screening.
James Hawthorne, 55, recently organized the Arlington Film Society’s first screening. Courtesy photo

James Hawthorne hated the cultural arts until he came to love them.

“Ballet, musicals — my mom was always taking us to that kind of stuff,” Hawthorne said. “I’d be dragging my feet in the dirt to keep from going.”

Later, Hawthorne, now 55 and a retired Arlington assistant police chief, started going to these events willingly, even on his own.

Last year, he became a player in the local arts scene, founding the Arlington Film Society to build interest in locally made films and to market Arlington as a ready stage for major filmmakers.

“I’m trying to promote growth in the cultural arts community in Arlington,” he said, “so you don’t have to go to Dallas or Fort Worth to rub elbows with world-class talents.”

Hawthorne is focusing on film because he believes that other visual arts have their venues and support base.

“But there’s nothing for film,” he said. “We’re trying to fill the void for people who are interested in the film industry.”

The film society is run by a seven-member board, with Hawthorne as executive director. Right now, he runs his campaign out of his house and fills other time by substitute-teaching. He hopes to get an office soon.

A film event

Hawthorne presented his first film screening Jan. 30, using the University of Texas at Arlington fine arts department’s screening room. The screening featured five local films and filmmakers, with stories ranging from a drug-addled twin to the pain of polygamy, all five to 20 minutes in length. It drew about 100 spectators.

“We had a really good showing for the first screening,” said graduate student Jean-Patrick Mahoney, who showed his film Phone Ghost at the event. “I think there’s a lot of community interest. We’ll see where that goes.”

“I don’t think there’s a space in Arlington dedicated to showcasing local films and filmmakers,” said Smith, whose film won Best Texas Short Film at the 2014 Dallas VideoFest. He made his first film at age 15. The new film society, he said, wants to “create an environment and occupy even several places” to spotlight rookie talent.

The university provides one site — its renovated film screening room, which opened in September and hosted the film society event.

“Before, it was more of a classroom lecture space,” Smith said.

Facing adversity

Hawthorne’s retirement came a couple years earlier than he would have preferred. He was arrested Nov. 17, 2013, on accusations that he assaulted his wife, Stephanie Hawthorne, principal of Barnett Junior High School, who called police to their home.

Days later, she accused police of misrepresenting what had happened and declined to continue cooperating with the investigation.

Still, James Hawthorne decided to retire in December 2013, and three months later, a Tarrant County grand jury declined to indict him.

“I think, looking back on everything, maybe some transformations occurred that needed to happen,” he said. “I’m not bitter; I’m not anything like that. I just think things happen for a reason, and we all face adversities in life.

“I wasn’t defined by those sets of incidents or by my police career,” he continued. “I’m defined as an individual, the person that I am. You’re not defined by adversity; you’re defined by how you pick yourself up and carry on.”

Making filmmakers

Forming the film society was not Hawthorne’s first choice for raising the profile of local films. He said he wanted to start an annual black film festival and was awarded a local grant in 2009 for the project. But he was working full time then and said he didn’t have enough spare time to get the festival started. He had to let the grant go back.

Hawthorne said three Arlington high schools have film programs, which he believes most residents don’t realize. The local path for students interested in filmmaking leads to UT Arlington, which offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in filmmaking and a master’s degree in film, video and digital media.

“We as a university are producing some really top-notch filmmakers,” Smith said. “And we’re trying to engage the community’s filmmakers.

“Arlington is rich in opportunity for those kinds of thing to happen to happen,” he said. “There are locations in Arlington that are suitable for shooting movies. Our job as a film society is to recommend those places and create some incentives to bring those in.”

Early years

Hawthorne lived his early life in Fort Worth with his parents. His mother, Lornelle, worked a full career at the National Weather Service, retired and went back to college for a bachelor’s in education. His dad, James, was a lab supervisor at Procter & Gamble and moonlighted to make ends meet.

“My dad worked two or three jobs at a time to make sure we had food on the table and had clothes,” Hawthorne said. “I think we grew up poor but didn’t know it.”

His mother got him into the church choir at age 5. And then there were the trips to the ballet, dance performances, symphonies and other cultural arts attractions. The most memorable excursion was to the Tarrant County Convention Center in 1969, when he was 10, to see the Jackson 5.

“That night was so special,” he said. “I think my mom just wanted us to be interested in something she was interested in.”

In 1977 he moved to Arlington to attend the university. And while he worked on his journalism degree, he got to freelance for the Arlington Citizen-Journal and, while working for KNOK radio, he got to introduce major acts, including Stevie Wonder, at Reunion Arena in Dallas. He also managed to work as an American Airlines flight attendant, then as a loan officer.

Gaining experience

His next move was to WBAP/820 AM, where covering the cop beat got him thinking about police work as a career.

“I probably wasn’t the typical cop who grew up wanting to be a cop,” said Hawthorne, who called it a more practical move. He wanted to put his learned skills — interviewing and writing reports — to good use.

He was 27 when he began his 28-year career at the Arlington Police Department. He didn’t find any enthusiasm for the ballet or symphony among his colleagues, who tended to be more enamored of football and the other masculine arts.

“I’m sure there were some like-minded cops, but I don’t know who they were,” he said with a laugh.

Hawthorne, father of two grown children, still finds time to serve on the executive boards and chair the commissions of several organizations, including the YMCA, the NAACP and the Martin Luther King Celebration. He also serves as an undergraduate adviser for his old Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and on its executive board as financial secretary.

“I love the city of Arlington,” Hawthorne said. “This is still my home.”

Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641

Twitter: @Kaddmann