Another season of the Detroit Film Theatre has ended, and fans of the DFT have several months to build up anticipation for the next season, which starts in September. The DFT cycles through the calendar with a school year rhythm that also guides other cultural events. During the last weekend of the 2005/2006 DFT season, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City presented the final Saturday afternoon radio broadcast of its season, which started in December. Something about these endings—and knowledge of new beginnings next season—helps us to appreciate these art events even more.
The scheduling of each Detroit Movie Palace is one example of how each theater skillfully carves out a niche for itself. The theaters have many good things in common, but you can’t say that any two of the theaters are exactly alike.
Both the DFT and Redford Theatre have “event” programming that is focused on the weekends and is publicized with printed schedules that cover several months. The Michigan Theater uses its daily schedule and two auditoriums to mix event programming (like the current Sundance Film Festival series) with films that could start anytime and run for several days or several weeks. The Redford and the Michigan show movies year-round, but you don’t risk getting too much of a good thing because of the weekend scheduling of the Redford and the Michigan’s role as one of many activities in downtown Ann Arbor.
The Winter 2006 series of the DFT was a stimulating mixture of the kind of film fare that has kept me attending the theater since 1988. The DFT publicizes and presents films in such a focused manner that my memory of a film is often inseparable from my experience of it at the DFT. Films are impressed on your consciousness through the illustrated schedules; lobby posters; still photos that are flashed on the screen before features; and detailed program notes that help you re-experience a film after it’s over.
To thrive, a business has to innovate, and the Winter 2006 series of the DFT brought several new treats for filmgoers. On March 4 and 5, the DFT presented Duma, the first in a planned series of family-friendly movies. This 2005 film about a 12-year-old South African boy and his pet cheetah was directed by Carroll Ballard, director of The Black Stallion and Fly Away Home.
The fundraising arm of the DFT—the Friends of the Detroit Film Theatre—held several film discussion dinners at the historic Scarab Club, just across the street from the DFT. Featured at these dinners were speakers with expertise in the subject matter of a film that was shown at the DFT just before the meal.
My lasting memories of the Winter 2006 series include many profound facial expressions: the suffering patience of French actress Emanuelle Devos in Gilles’ Wife; the golden wisdom of the aging ballet performers in Ballets Russes; the cold innocence of the Russian boy soldiers in The 3 Rooms of Melancholia; and the wide eyes of young Spanish actress Ana Torrent in Spirit of the Beehive.
And who can forget the many exciting images that flashed on the screen on three remarkable evenings in March when pianist Dave Drazin accompanied the classic silent films The Big Parade, Wings, and The Wedding March.
My personal highlight of the series might have been a Sunday afternoon showing of the 1960 French film noir thriller Class Tous Risques on March 26. As I sat in the front row of the theater balcony, I was riveted by the sharp skills of director Claude Sautet and stars Lino Ventura and Jean-Paul Belmondo. The film appealed to my interest in several movie categories that mainstream theaters rarely touch: foreign language, obscure, old, and black-and-white. After that film, I had the privilege of enjoying some delicious chili in the Crystal Gallery Café and then watching an evening presentation of The Wedding March.
So now we savor the memories of another fascinating DFT season, and look forward to late summer newspaper articles and web site postings about the next season. By then, the novelty of all the big summer movies will have worn off, and we can settle into another year of documentaries, foreign language films, and restored classics that are both challenging and rewarding.
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Copyright © 2006 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.