Film club grows into new headquarters


February 18, 2002|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE DEAD of winter has always seemed like a good time to catch up on that ever-growing "must-see" video list. And if your list is filled with independent, classic or foreign films, there's a new club in town to help out.

The club, formed last summer, meets one Saturday a month to eat, watch a video and talk cinema. And now it has a new home.

Club members first gathered in front of the VCR in each other's homes. Last week, they were planning their first meeting in a bona fide clubhouse large enough to hold the club's growing numbers.

Debora Katz, 35, a physics professor at the Naval Academy, came up with the idea for the club, which is so informal that it remains unnamed.

Katz said a visit with her brother in Boston last Memorial Day weekend inspired her to seek out film-watching companions. Her brother and a couple of his friends were discussing the films they had seen, and she realized she hadn't seen many of them. They began listing movies for her to see and ranking them into an "A" list, a "B" list, and so on.

"They were all sort of high-brow kind of films," Katz said. "And I didn't want to see them alone, but not a lot of people down here that I knew wanted to see those kinds of things."

She went on a search for a local film club and came up empty-handed. So she decided to start one herself. She said she figured it would be kind of like a book club except perhaps easier because members wouldn't have to prepare for the meetings.

Katz recruited members by hanging fliers on bulletin boards around town. Three people joined her the first night for the 1982 film Diner. It seemed a modest response, but her objective was just to have someone with whom to watch artistic films.

"I said, `Three is good,'" Katz remembered. "Three fits in my living room."

Her mailing list grew as people saw the fliers and began sending e-mail to her. Soon there were about 20 people on the list, and between six and 10 regularly showed up on movie night. After the club was described in an article in The Capital in January, Katz said, the mailing list doubled to 40 and club members had to change their strategy for meetings.

Until now, the group has met at each other's homes or gathered at a restaurant for dinner before moving to someone's living room for the feature presentation. In January, when prospective members began contacting her in large numbers, Katz had to tell them that none of the members had a living room large enough to accommodate them all.

Newcomers would be unable to see the film, but she invited them to a premovie dinner at 49 West on Main Street to brainstorm a solution.

It came from one of the existing members. According to Katz, Eric Funk had been host to nearly as many film nights as she had. As a resident of the Epping Forest neighborhood, he had access to a community clubhouse there. The club was scheduled to hold its first meeting in its new home Saturday.

But there is a fee. So now the club charges $35 a year for membership to cover the cost of the clubhouse. Call it the price of expansion.

There are no set criteria for the films they show. The films selected are as varied as the 1957 film noir classic The Sweet Smell of Success and the 1998 apocalyptic Canadian drama Last Night.

Katz said she usually rents them from Annebeth's, an independent video rental shop on Maryland Avenue. She selects movies from her must-see list and takes suggestions from the group.

"The only thing I can say for sure is that they're not blockbusters, not big Hollywood productions." Katz said. "In my mind, it's sort of films as opposed to movies. It's more artistic as opposed to entertainment."

Besides a trip to Annebeth's, Katz sometimes prepares for club nights by gathering information from the Internet with which to kick off a post-show discussion about the featured film.

"The members are all really interesting people," Katz said, noting that the members range in age from 20s to 50s. She said the members have varied backgrounds. The group includes a writer, a building contractor and a commercial boat pilot in training.

As with many clubs, there is a social component and friendships have developed.

"At this point there are some people in town I feel pretty close to since the film club," Katz said.

As for help getting through her brother's list of suggested films, the club has only confounded the problem. The members, it seems, have come with their own lists.

"It's completely out of hand in terms of how many things I need to see," Katz said.

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