The Detroit Film Theatre saw many new worlds come alive during the first weekend of the public re-opening of the Detroit Institute of Arts on Nov. 23-25, 2007.
The family-oriented programming of the DFT introduced many children and their parents to the kind of atmosphere and quality entertainment that they might not find at the megaplex. The DFT took advantage of the large DIA crowds and the new entrance on John R to promote itself. And in the films, children worked their way through different passages to learn more about themselves and the worlds around them.
In opening remarks before each of the films on Nov. 24, 2007, Friends of Detroit Film Theatre Membership Chair Margaret Thomas gave special welcomes to first-time visitors to the DFT. “It’s really magnificent and lovely, and a wonderful part of the new DIA,” said Thomas.
During an afternoon break between movies, Larry Baranski of the DFT stood near a door that connects the museum with the balcony level of the DFT. DIA visitors would sometimes wander through the door, and Baranski introduced them to the “restored theater,” which they were allowed to explore before the next film. He handed them a DFT schedule and told them about the food offerings of the nearby Crystal Gallery Café.
Throughout the DFT, families enjoyed their visit to a theater with more style and sophistication than they usually got at mainstream theaters.
A child yodeled as it came up the narrow, enclosed staircase from the lower, bathroom level. “I want to go to one of the balconies,” said a young boy to his father as they walked towards the front of the main floor. “Mommy, look at that!” exclaimed a youngster as she gazed in wonder around the auditorium.
“It’s beu-u-utiful,” admired a lady in the balcony. The spaciousness of the DFT impressed one mother so much that when her children convinced her to sit in the balcony, she said, “I’ll send Daddy a text message.”
The film highlight of the day was probably the 2 p.m. double feature of the French films The Red Balloon (1956) and White Mane (1952). Later in the day were the 2007 U.S. documentary Summercamp! and The Cave of the Yellow Dog, a 2006 film set in Siberia.
In The Red Balloon, a young boy makes friends with the title “character,” which follows him around with the kind of loyalty that you might expect from a pet. The DFT helped set the atmosphere for the film, with red balloons in the organ balcony, in the inner lobby, in the display cases of the Crystal Gallery Café, and in children’s hands.
The Red Balloon first came to Detroit fifty years ago, when it played on a double bill with The Lost Continent at the Krim Theater, one of several art film theaters in Detroit in the 1950s. “This is a film of sheer enchantment,” wrote Detroit Free Press Movie Critic Helen Bower on Oct. 30, 1957.
Both The Red Balloon and White Mane were directed by Albert Lamorisse, and both built to magical, mysterious conclusions that challenged the imaginations of everyone present. The intelligent fun continued with Summercamp!, in which children at a Wisconsin camp shared their joys and sadnesses. And The Cave of the Yellow Dog showed another special attachment, this time between a six-year-old girl and a stray dog.
It was a unique group of films, in which I learned much about the different ways in which young people move towards self-awareness and independence. And the re-birth of the DIA and DFT also made it a special day, as we experienced a new world of wonder that was made possible by many years of patience and hard work.
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.