Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wilhelm on the DFT

A lot of people know who Elliot Wilhelm is. An interview in the current Visions & Ventures in-house newsletter of the Detroit Institute of Arts' Volunteer Council (I'm a volunteer) provides some information we may not have entirely known about Wilhelm and the Detroit Film Theatre, the venerable art house cinema attached to the DIA...In it Wilhelm says that he was hired to launch the theatre in 1973 with a NEA grant of $10,000. Previously he had worked as a radio announcer.....As curator (that's his title) Wilhelm takes the same approach to film as any other curator at the DIA. "Theatre is our gallery space," he says, and films, as much as paintings or scultures, "are works of art." In selecting films Wilhelm doesn't just rely on a director's reputation or the film's critical acclaim but indeed the actual quality of the celluloid, just as any good piece of art must be visually pleasing or, as he says, "to be seen in the best possible light." There can be a long time line between when a film is selected and screened. He says he can wait two years for a film to come to the DFT that was at, say, the Toronto International Film Festival. For each film he selects there are 15 he's rejected. He quotes Lauren Bacall as providing a kind of rule-of-thumb for film's popularity and timelessness. "There's no such thing as an old movie," she said. "Only one you haven't seen yet."

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