Useful Lives

Film programmers, theater employees, serious cinephiles—Useful Lives celebrates all those who work with and dream about moving images. Even in the modern age of the multiplex and Netflix, independent theaters and film archives (and the audiences who support them) remain vital cultural forces. Global in scope, the series offers captivating glimpses into the lives and fantasies of film enthusiasts across five continents.

In our titular selection, A Useful Life, a real-life Uruguayan cinematheque becomes the setting for a sly comedy about a down-on-his-luck film curator. Peter Sellers plays a hapless projectionist at Britain’s worst movie theater in the 1950s comedy The Smallest Show on Earth. New German Cinema hero Wim Wenders follows a traveling cinema repairman in Cold War-era West Germany in Kings of the Road. English auteur Terence Davies composes a semi-autobiographical portrait of a young cinephile in The Long Day Closes, and the documentary Comrades in Dreams captures the passion and dedication of independent theater owners in India, Burkina Faso, North Korea, and rural Wyoming.

The Long Day Closes

Friday, April 29, 2011 7:00 PM
(Terence Davies, 1992, UK, 35mm, 85 min)

Terence Davies’ poetic, autobiographical drama follows Bud, a young boy whose main respite from schoolyard bullies at his oppressive Catholic school is the neighborhood cinema, and musical evenings at home with his tight-knit family. Cinephiles should delight in Davies’ clever incorporation of film sound clips that juxtapose postwar Liverpudlian drabness against the Golden Age of Hollywood. New 35mm print from Park Circus, UK.

The Smallest Show on Earth

Saturday, May 7, 2011 2:00 PM
(Basil Dearden, 1957, UK, 35mm, 80 min.)

When struggling writer Matt and his patient wife Jean inherit The Bijou Cinema, the decrepit theater is barely standing, though three elderly and eccentric employees still call it home: Mrs. Fazackalee, who has sold tickets and played piano since the silent era; Old Tom, the mercurial usher; and Percy Quill, the Bijou’s alcoholic projectionist, played with uncommon restraint by Peter Sellers. Unable to sell the theater, aka “The Flea Pit,” the couple tries rescuing it instead. Against improbable odds, and with the help of a little arson, the Bijou is reborn. Vive le cinema!

A Useful Life

Friday, May 13, 2011 7:00 PM
(Federico Veiroj, 2010, Uruguay/Spain, 35mm, 67 min.)

At once a celebration of–and an elegy to–classic cinema and film culture, Veiroj’s black-and-white comedy revolves around the final days of a crumbling, near-broke Uruguayan moviehouse. Film programmer Jorge (played by real life movie critic Jorge Jellinek) struggles to prepare a Manoel de Oliveira retrospective and win the affection of a (rare) regular customer while the theater itself faces imminent closure. A Useful Life is co-presented with the Global Film Initiative and is part of the Global Lens 2011 Film Series. For more information, visit www.globalfilm.org.

Preceded by:

As Follows

(Federico Veiroj, 2004, Uruguay, 35mm, 13 min.)

Set amongst the Jewish community in Montevideo, this short film by the director of A Useful Life follows young Bregman as he deals with his upcoming bar mitzvah and a sexual rite of passage.

Kings of the Road

Thursday, May 19, 2011 7:00 PM
(Wim Wenders, 1976, W. Germany, 35mm, 175 min)

One of the great films of New German Cinema, and long-unavailable in the US, Wim Wenders’s Kings of the Road is a cross-cultural fusion of the great American road movie and Cold War-era German arthouse cinema. Somewhere along the sparsely populated border between the former West and East Germanys, a lonely film projector repairman meets a suicidal linguist. With no particular destination in mind (save for the repairman’s work-related stopovers), the two men become traveling companions, exploring a Germany defined by division and conflict, Americanization versus national culture, and a nostalgia for the past, as seen through the lens of film projectors in a succession of erstwhile small-town movie theaters. 35mm print courtesy of Axiom Films, UK. This screening is generously co-sponsored by the Department of German, Northwestern University.

Comrades in Dreams

Thursday, June 2, 2011 7:00 PM
(Uli Gaulke, 2006, Germany, DigiBeta, 100 min.)

In this stirring documentary, filmmaker Uli Gaulke crosses continents to capture the passion and dedication that unites film professionals and filmgoers of many cultures. In India, a film fanatic screens Bollywood fantasias inside a circus tent. In Burkina Faso, three friends transform an abandoned outdoor theater into the village cinema. An old barn serves as a theater-cum-community center for the residents of a small Wyoming town. Meanwhile, in North Korea, a cheery film programmer entertains workers with chaste romances and uplifting morality plays.