In Praise of the Detroit Film Theatre, Which Is Going on Vacation
One of the city’s true treasures is taking a break.
I miss it already.
The Detroit Film Theatre, which normally runs a summer season, will be dark until September. This has nothing to do with cutbacks to city-owned entities.
Workers will be repairing the area in and around the theater, which is part of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
That was the word from the stage before this weekend’s movies.
DFT founder and director Elliot Wilhelm wasn’t available, so I’ll have to praise his decades-old program myself.
Week after week, season after season, year after year, the film theatre quietly exists as an oasis of culture, bringing works to Detroit that are interesting, diverse and, often, challenging. These are not cookie-cutter films. Most of them do not have Hollywood endings. In fact, some of the movies I’ve seen there put the endings where the beginning usually are in most movies.
But that adventure is part of the fun of the DFT. The difference between the DFT and a suburban multiplex is like vacationing at a quiet, seaside village and spending time at Disneyworld.
This past winter and fall season there were films from the U.S., France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Iran, Russia and Germany. One focused on the Maldives.
There was a Chaplin film – “The Gold Rush,” and a German film, “World on a Wire,” about an alternative universe that had elements of “The Matrix.” But “World on a Wire” came out in 1973.
Wilhelm also showed some documentaries about Detroit this past season that were hugely popular. One, which compared Detroit and Lodz, Poland, totally sold out. People got mad because they couldn’t get in. Lodz, Poland!
I’ve attended DFT films since Year One. I can think back on dozens of amazing evenings there, though I’m still mildly freaked out by a Japanese movie I saw in the 1970s in which the girlfriend knifes her boyfriend in a delicate part of his anatomy.
For the past two weekends, one of the films playing the DFT was “Monsieur Lazhar,” a Canadian about an Algerian immigrant who takes over a grade school class in Montreal after the regular teacher commits suicide – in the classroom, before the students had arrived that morning. It deals with the 12- and 13-year-old kids working out their grief and coming to love this strange dude from North Africa, as we watch Mr. Lazhar working out his anguish from the terrorist murder of his wife and children back home.
The performances are exquisite, and the last moments, when Lazhar reads a fable he wrote as he is about to leave the children, were one of the most bittersweet scenes I have ever seen on a screen. I get choked up writing about it three days later.
With such decorative touches as fancy tiles, grillwork and ornate plaster, the theatre itself – and the Crystal Gallery café on the mezzanine – are works of art themselves.
We were told the repairs will fix the marble staircase, the erratic restrooms and some windows. Great.
One word comes to mind as we contemplate a new and improved DFT: Bravo.