Easy Like Sunday Morning

Sunday mornings and I do not mix well. For most of my life, a great Sunday morning only meant one thing – sleeping in. My friends and family know not to call me before noon. When I have to get up early, I do so grudgingly and will complain to anyone around, lately my wife. Sometimes I need to make sure I get up in time to set my fantasy football lineups before the 1:00pm games. That is the rule, which as you have likely guessed, comes with some exceptions. For example, when my wife and I visit our nieces and nephews, sleeping in is usually not an option. On a rare occasion my wife manages to drag me out a little early to visit a farmer’s market. She knows that if anything has a chance against my love of sleep, it is my love of food. Now though, it is my love of film that will get me up early. Starting September 20, I will be the new moderator for Cinema Art Bethesda, a monthly Sunday morning screening series at the Landmark Bethesda Row.

I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with Sunday morning cinema series. In 1995, newly working and living in Rosslyn, I heard about the Key Cinema Club. Back then it was actually run out of the Key Theater in Georgetown. While I did not have a car, I could walk across the Key Bridge. Afterwards I could spend the afternoon walking around Georgetown. Not too bad. The strange part for me was that the audience would not know until right before the start what film they would see. In those days, before film news and opinions filled the Internet, it meant that we also would not have heard any background about the film beforehand. Sometimes, it would be thrilling going in with a clean slate. Other times, I would be wishing I had a warning beforehand. Unfortunately, the Club stopped running at the Theater, and the theater closed for good in 1997. The Club reopened elsewhere, but I grew out of the habit and my want for Sunday morning sleep won out.

A few years later, the Cinema Arts Theater in Fairfax began a Sunday morning film series and tapped my friends, film critics Bill Henry and Joe Barber, as moderators. By then I was living in Falls Church, not too far from that theater. Out of loyalty to Bill and Joe, my then-roommate Jim Shippey and I became regulars. Officially, the audience was again not supposed to know the film ahead of time, but Bill would tell me anyway. Strangely enough, the one film I remember from the series was Little Otik, a bizarre Czech story about a tree stump coming to life. Little Otik was filled with stop-motion animation, and, for some reason, way too many closeups of people eating. As much as I desperately wanted Little Otik to end, I somehow appreciated that I was exposed to it in the first place. Bill and Joe, as always, were engaging and knowledgeable hosts. They led thoughtful and fun discussions after the films. Unfortunately, the theater replaced them for the following season, and both my loyalty to Bill and Joe and my love of sleep triumphed.

Even though, in both cases, I stopped going, I remember those series fondly. First, I was there with others in the audience who cared about movies. They were not talking, texting, or just looking to kill a couple of hours. Second, I could talk about the film while it was still fresh in my mind. Occasionally, a comment or question might open up a new way of looking at the film, or illuminate a key scene. We should never just be passive consumers of what we see in a theater. Exchanging observations, opinions, and feelings about the film is always a critical part of the experience. These Sunday morning cinema series help keep that film culture vibrant. Bill, long after he stopped hosting these screenings, would go to the Key Cinema Club, now at the Avalon. Occasionally he would ask me to go with him, and now I wish I had.

Bill was the first person who came to mind when I heard from the Cinema Art Bethesda. Their moderator, Stan Levin, had moved on to other commitments. Liz Wagger, former director of the DC Film Society, mentioned that I moderated the Cinema Lounge discussion group, and was kind enough to recommend me. The more I learned about the Cinema Art Bethesda, and the more time I talked with their treasurer Neil Goldstein, the more I grew excited about this opportunity. Also, with Bill and Joe both gone now, I see my role with Cinema Art Bethesda as a small way to honor their legacy.

The Cinema Art Bethesda series convenes once a month, starting Sunday, September 20. The Landmark Bethesda Row is a beautiful, luxurious theater, easily accessible by both car and Metro. Unlike other similar series we will tell you in advance what films we are showing. Our first is A Borrowed Identity, the latest from Israeli director Eran Riklis (The Syrian Bride, The Lemon Tree). You can find the full schedule here. Tickets are $125 for the whole series or $15 for an individual film at the door. The ticket includes bagels, cream cheese and coffee before the film. Breakfast starts at 9:30am, with the film at 10:00am and a discussion immediately following. We will be done at approximately 12:30pm, leaving plenty of time to enjoy a Bethesda afternoon or suffer through a Redskins game. You can get more information and download a subscription form here. I hope to see you Sunday morning.

Adam Spector
September 1, 2015

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