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A toast at 25!

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Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration opens the DFT's 25th season.First, there is the pleasure of anticipation. Then, the ritual: the hot cup of coffee in the Crystal Gallery, the friendly chat, the quick glance at the program. Then, as the lights grow dim over the quiet rustle of the audience, the show begins -- as it does every weekend, as it has for so many years -- filling the theater with an air of familiar celebration, testing the boundaries of all cinematic experience, telling stories of beauty and betrayal which bend reality to their fantastic purposes.

Thus begin our celluloid weekends, our stormy, independent Mondays, our 35mm excursions into landscapes of wonder and underground worlds of sadness whose raw tenderness works inside us like a drug. So what if we are addicted? So what if, twice a week, we show symptoms of heroic behavior as we make our way to the Detroit Film Theatre against all odds, fighting ice storms, heavy rains and thunder? There's method to our madness as we demand -- not much! -- just crisp and pristine prints of our favorite classics; restored versions of maimed originals; retrospectives and recapitulations -- in other words, the chance to see the works of all those great manufacturers of cinema, artisans of the day before.

As the Detroit Film Theatre celebrates its 25th season this winter, Elliot Wilhelm, founder and director of the series since 1973 and curator of film at the DIA since 1984, talks about the DFT's first season and its instant success, about the demise of repertory theaters, about taste and expectation, about his choice of films.

"I didn't target a specific audience. I just asked myself what kind of movie theater I would wish for. The answer was an ongoing exhibition, a gallery of moving pictures where I could see something new every week -- and not just films that I liked, but films that were significant in some way. Nothing is filler."

Through a happy coincidence, the season opens this weekend with Danish director Thomas Vinterberg's film The Celebration winner of this year's Special Jury Prize at Cannes. Among other cinematic delicacies, this winter's schedule features a brilliant and disturbing portrait of Francis Bacon (Love is the Devil); a collection of international short animated films; a Gordon Parks retrospective; the 50th anniversary release of The Bicycle Thief; guest appearances by the Alloy Orchestra and the Living Nickelodeon, which provide musical accompaniment for films from the silent era; and Louis Malle's 1981 My Dinner with Andre.

As the theater prepares to meet its faithful audience, we catch a glimpse of young Orlando before he finds himself transformed into a lovely woman, as shadows travel to The Other Side of Sunday, as Fallen Angels wander through the streets of Wong Kar-Wai's Hong Kong, and as Juliette -- but Who the Hell is Juliette? -- enjoys the company of Henry Fool.

And as the curtain rises and the lights grow dim, we know that, first, there is the pleasure of anticipation; that there is no successful cure for our addiction; that it's the nature of the organism to ask for more -- and of the DFT to provide it.

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