The good news: After a summer hiatus, the Key Sunday Cinema Club resumes on September 26, the first of seven mostly bi-weekly sessions throughout the fall and early winter. Formed in February, the Burlington chapter gathers at the Roxy for previews of unreleased art-house fare, followed by discussions.
The bad news: David Levy, who founded the organization a dozen years ago, died last week at age 67 due to complications from the leukemia he'd battled for two decades. The cinema club first opened in his hometown -- Washington, D.C. -- and has since taken root in eight other cities across the country.
Levy would have insisted that the show must go on. This weekend's screening is surely the most appropriate way to honor his legacy of championing American independents and foreign-language films in a culture dominated by mainstream blockbusters.
Levy's longtime friend Bob Mondello navigates both of those realms, alternative and Hollywood, as a critic for National Public Radio. He will be a guest speaker at the second meeting of the Queen City series on October 10.
"The film clubs are amazing," Mondello observes, during a recent telephone interview. "That's really a magic time for me because the dialogue can begin. I always pictured my work as somehow being a link between the creators and the audience. But, with radio, I'm removed from the listeners other than the occasional letter or email."
Now 55, Mondello also grew up in D.C. He was seduced by theater as a teenager, then succumbed to the call of motion pictures while a student -- and entertainment editor of the school paper -- at the University of Maryland.
After a stint in public relations, Mondello earned a living doing freelance reviews for a local ABC-TV affiliate. He joined NPR in 1984 as a commentator on "All Things Considered." His other current gigs include writing for City Paper, a Seven Days-like publication in the nation's capital.
"One of my first pieces for NPR was an obit on Orson Welles, who had died inconveniently at 2:20 in the afternoon for a program that goes on the air at 4," Mondello recalls. "I was panic-stricken. We were still editing the piece when the show started. But obituaries are always interesting. You get to explore the sweep of someone's vision, instead of just talking about whether or not Brad Pitt can act."
The noted critic was attracted to the sweep of David Levy's vision in the mid-1970s, when they worked together on publicity for movie theaters the older man then owned. Mondello has been dropping in on various cinema clubs ever since the project began in 1992.
"I get such a charge from meeting people," he says. "Everyone brings something different to the discussion."
Mondello recalls a chat last year about The Barbarian Invasions, in which a son reconciles with his terminally ill father. "I mentioned that my own father had Parkinson's disease," he explains, "how life had shifted for me, how the child becomes the father. Well, that opened the floodgates. It became group therapy."
Each city approaches the cinema club experience with a slightly different sensibility. "Here in D.C., they tend to see things in political terms," Mondello says. "Boston is more psychological, and Atlanta tends to have a historical perspective."
Members, who pay $100 per season, never know what the selection will be until they arrive for each 10:30 a.m. Sunday screening. This element of surprise is part of the fun. Call 1-888-467-0404 for more information.
Most of us need little encouragement to party, but the Vermont International Film Festival is nonetheless providing a good excuse on September 23: a launch of the 15th edition of the annual Burlington event. The 7 p.m. celebration will be held at The Gallerie @ Opaline, below the Lawson Lane restaurant in Burlington. Tickets, which cost $25, can be purchased at the door or in advance from the VIFF office One Main Street, Suite 307.
Filmmaker and composer Allan Nicholls is slated to perform "Songs From the Source," a compilation of music from the many Robert Altman pictures he has worked on, generally as assistant director. In addition, the lineup for the 2004 festival -- taking place October 13-18 -- will be announced. As usual, the schedule promises to showcase the medium's take on a range of people, places and topical issues.