This past weekend marked 25 years since I first started attending movies at the Detroit Film Theatre. I first visited the DFT around August 1, 1988 for the German drama Wings of Desire.
I observed this anniversary by attending all three of the films that the DFT was showing—the animated Japanese film Laputa: Castle in the Sky (August 3, 2013); the somber, observant Museum Hours (August 3); and the playful, witty documentary Deceptive Practice (August 4).
All through the weekend, I tried to figure out the significance of my visits to the DFT for a quarter of a century. Five years ago, I wrote about attending the DFT for 20 years (Twenty Years at the DFT), and I went into detail about many of my favorite experiences at the theater.
Five years later, it was time for another kind of reflection. What keeps me coming back? I first thought about many of the unique events that the DFT has held or launched since August 2008.
Muppets, Music & Magic: Jim Henson’s Legacy (Autumn 2008)—This series of films showed the different sides of Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets (Christmas Comes to the DFT).
World Opera in Cinema (Autumn 2009)—These filmed versions of operas gave us dramatic insights into the expressiveness of their performers with many creative closeups and camera angles (A Day at the DFT Opera).
The Canadian Scene (Autumn 2009)—This four-day series gave us a cinematic view of our international neighbors. It was held in conjunction with the 2009 Windsor International Film Festival.
DFT Docs and DFT 101 (Winter 2010)—These Saturday afternoon series put the focus on nonfiction films and classic movies from around the world.
DFT Docs has often featured visits by the creator of the featured film (DFT Documentaries). DFT 101 has included extended introductions by Detroit Institute of Arts film curator Elliot Wilhelm (DFT 101 and A DIA Benefit).
Both series have helped combine with the 7 p.m. feature to create many dynamic double bills, with an intermission in the splendor of the Crystal Gallery Café.
Mexican Cinema (Summer and Autumn 2010, Autumn 2011)—This series was held in conjunction with the bicentennial commemoration of the Republic of Mexico. It introduced many filmgoers to the artistry of director Emilio Fernández and the luminous cinematography of Gabriel Figueroa (South of the Border).
The Art of Editing (Winter and Summer 2011)—Film editor Richard Chew appeared in person several times to talk about how classic movies were edited, and how he edited some recent films (Making the Cut).
Detroit Revealed on Film (Winter 2012)—This cinematic accompaniment to the DIA exhibition Detroit Revealed: Photographs 2001-2010 gave viewers insights into the history and future of the ever-changing city that surrounds the DIA and the DFT.
Twilight of the Tsars (Autumn 2012)—This series of Russian silent films from 1910-1919 featured DFT favorite David Drazin on piano accompaniment. It was presented as part of the DIA exhibition Fabergé: The Rise and Fall (Ancient Images).
Iranian Cinema (Winter 2013)—This group of films featured a special appearance by director Shirin Neshat, the subject of a DIA exhibition.
While the DFT was continually looking for new types of programming, it was also improving its facilities. A larger screen was installed in 2010, and this year digital projection was added.
In 2012, areas outside of the DFT auditorium got a makeover. Renovations were made to the restrooms, Crystal Gallery Café, and exterior stonework (including the steps facing John R). The following pictures show how the 2012 renovations changed the look of the DFT.
The next two photographs show the removal of wire from the windows in the Crystal Gallery Café (click photos to get a closer view).
In addition to the windows, the chairs in the café were recently replaced.
That brings us to the present. I enjoyed an entertaining, enlightening, and thought-provoking weekend at the DFT on August 3 and 4, 2013. The weather was beautiful, I had just started my summer vacation, and the well-maintained landscaping of the Cultural Center added to the pleasure of the weekend.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky was part of another DFT effort to provide unique programming. It was the latest movie in the DFT’s Saturday Animation Club. This summer-long series was been giving young visitors and many others a fun look at animated family films from around the world, with a special emphasis on Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki.
Museum Hours was the kind of movie that you will see only at art film theaters like the DFT or the Michigan Theater (where it starts August 18). That programming approach is another reason I’ve kept coming back to the DFT for 25 years.
As the audience watched this fictional documentary about an art museum in Vienna, Austria, many probably compared the museum experiences of people in the movie with their own experiences in the galleries of the Detroit Institute of Arts just a few hundred feet away.
Museum Hours also had personal significance for me. The patient, omnipresent narration of the main character, with its solid, undramatic German language expression, reminded me of the voice-over observations of the angels in Wings of Desire, my first DFT movie.
Deceptive Practice was another kind of film that you won’t see too often at the local megaplex. The subject was magician Ricky Jay, and his amazing skills and charismatic personality helped make the movie endlessly compelling. Its collection of photographs, film clips, and television excerpts showed how the recorded image can preserve the history of a field of interest. Like many DFT films, both fiction and nonfiction, I felt like I had made a new personal connection by the end of the movie.
So now I look forward to my next visit to a film program that will turn 40 years old next January. At the three movies I attended on August 3 and 4, Elliot Wilhelm did his part to keep DFT visitors coming back by using his introductions to enthusiastically promote upcoming events.
These events include films related to the DIA exhibition Watch Me Move: The Animation Show, which runs from October 6, 2013 to January 5, 2014.
Copyright © 2013 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.