This Friday, Aug. 8, when the Detroit Film Theatre kicks off its new season, the question sure to be heard is: “Can you believe it has been 30 years?”
To many, the three decades of movie-going provided by the DFT have passed quickly. The celluloid adventures and Monday night excursions have become a tradition for film lovers. And this local luxury, can be, in truth, largely credited to the DFT’s curator and biggest fan, Elliot Wilhelm.
“I wanted to have a place where people could experience the seeing of a film in a beautiful theater,” says Wilhelm. “So in 1973 when the National Endowment for the Arts gave the DFT a $10,000 grant, we knew that if it succeeded, we [the DFT] would stay.”
His focus as boss man has been simple, he says — “consistency, availability and reasonable prices.”
When Wilhelm first came to the DFT, there was an exodus of sorts happening in cities across the country. Multiplexes popped up en masse in the suburbs and the longtime tradition of “movie openings,” was fading with the ever-increasing fickleness and impatience of movie audiences.
And even as the times changed, Wilhelm managed to hold on to the nostalgia of the movie-watching experience and turn it into a much-feted Detroit tradition.
From the programs to the treats in the Crystal Gallery to the pre-movie socialization, a night spent at the DFT is more an adventure than a quickie in-and-out experience.
“There is a satisfaction involved in presenting a good film,” says Wilhelm proudly. But his main concern is the people. In fact, one of Wilhelm’s fondest memories as curator of the DFT was an after-movie conversation he had with a patron.
“The man said to me, ‘That was the worst film I have ever seen … see you next week.’ I loved that. I loved that even though he disliked the movie, he knew he would be back the next week — that’s what it is about,” quipped Wilhelm.
And as far as this year’s season goes, Wilhelm says there is no real theme. “I have been looking for pictures that move people,” says Wilhelm of the lineup. “It is not necessarily based on what films I like … it is based in what is exceptional, passionate and significant.”
And so begins yet another fantastic year of quality films; be they celebratory, documentary or vintage pieces of genius, loyal audiences will flock to them. Some highlights from DFT listings include:
Mark Moskowitz’s Stone Reader — a brilliant documentary about author Dow Mossman and his virtual disappearance from the literary world, (Aug. 22-24).
Larry Charles’ unexpectedly touching Masked and Anonymous — a story about a future America that has been torn apart by civil strife … when a big-shot promoter (John Goodman) springs a legendary pop star (Bob Dylan) out of jail for a music benefit, the visionary brilliance ensues. Also starring Luke Wilson, Jessica Lange, Val Kilmer and others. (Sept. 26-28).
The Cremaster Cycle — this visual art piece that took eight years to make, melds several genres, including the Busby Berkeley musical, the western and the opera into a five-part film cycle. Actors include Norman Mailer and artist Richard Serra. (Oct. 31-Nov. 2).
Also showing will be the Yasujiro Ozu tribute. Celebrating what would have been this much-championed Japanese filmmaker’s 100th birthday, the DFT will be showing four of Ozu’s masterworks including Tokyo Story, An Autumn Afternoon, Late Spring and I was born, but … (Dec. 12-15).
So as the seats fill up and the curtain rises, remember the reason why you are there. Be it a couple hours out of a workaday life or a kept tradition with old pals, remember that film is one of the last oases that can truly take you away. Let’s hear it for another 30 years.
The DFT starts its season on Friday, Aug. 8, with Emanuele Crialese’s Respiro (see the review here). See it at the theater inside the DIA (5200 Woodward, Detroit). Call 313-833-2323 for information. See Metro Times’ Cinema section for weekly reviews of DFT offerings.Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org