Now entering its 34th year, the Detroit Film Theatre series could easily rest on its laurels. But, like the Detroit Institute of Arts itself, which has undergone a massive, attitude-shifting renovation, the winter 2008 season has both the familiar and a blast of the new to challenge audience perceptions.
Opening with the one-two punch of the documentaries Terror's Advocate (Jan. 10-12) and Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains (Jan. 11-13, 18-20), film curator Elliot Wilhelm seems ready to court controversy with these very different accounts of men devoted to their own ideas of justice and the importance of truth. That's followed by For the Bible Tells Me So (Jan. 17-19), which directly challenges Christianity's condemnation of homosexuality.
The centerpiece of the new season is a retrospective of Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène (Feb. 21-24), whose death last year was overshadowed by the passing of art house giants Bergman and Antonioni. In African cinema, Sembène was an even more important figure than those luminaries, exploring traditional beliefs in insightful tales of contemporary Senegalese dealing with the demands of conflicting cultures, even exploring such taboo subjects as female genital mutilation.
Two films about Iran also highlight the DFT's commitment to world cinema. Based on Marjane Satrapi's brash graphic novel, the animated Persepolis (Jan. 25-27, Feb. 1-3) follows an independent-minded teenage girl confronting the changes sweeping her country with the Islamic Revolution. In The Willow Tree (April 3-5), a blind man regains his sight, and learns how really seeing the world around him can be a double-edged sword.
The latest from American indie icon John Sayles, Honeydripper (Feb. 8-13), gets a rare, extended run. Sayles uses his novelistic approach to explore the intertwined lives in a segregated Alabama town in 1950, and the colorful, sweat-soaked birth of rock 'n' roll. Another musical don't-miss is the revival of photographer Bruce Weber's luminous 1988 black-and-white portrait of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, Let's Get Lost (March 6-8).
Even as it moves forward, the DFT is looking back to its repertory theater roots. Stalwarts like Aguirre, the Wrath of God (April 24-25) get their umpteenth showings, but the most welcome surprise is the reappearance of Diva (Feb. 29 to March 2), the movie that epitomized art-house cool in the 1980s, and redefined the term French New Wave.
Also, two upcoming films complement the strong fall 2007 season. After the long-awaited theatrical release of his debut film, Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett's rare second feature about family life in South Central Los Angeles, My Brother's Wedding (March 13-15), comes to the DFT. And Flight of the Red Balloon (April 18-20) is Hou Hsiao-hsien's lyrical reinterpretation of Albert Lamorisse's magical 1956 children's film updated to reflect a 21st century Paris. —Serena Donadoni
For the full DFT schedule, available for download, visit dia.org/dft or call 313-833-3237 to have one mailed.