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Published: Friday, 3/16/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

COMMENTARY

Art films in good hands at Main Library

BY KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK

The Human Resources Manager. A Small Act. Better This World. Louder Than a Bomb. The Piano in a Factory. A Screaming Man.

There's a lot more to movies than what's playing at the nearest cineplex.

The six titles above are all acclaimed foreign films; the average rating of the six films on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site is 90 percent fresh.

More importantly, all six films are screening for F-R-E-E as part of Film Focus, an independent film festival running at 6:15 p.m. Mondays through April 16 at the McMaster Center at the Main Library, 325 Michigan St. in downtown Toledo. Did I mention the movies are showing for free?

At Monday night's screening of the Israeli film The Human Resources Manager, which opened the current festival, movie fan Richard Reder expressed gratitude for the program.

"I think this idea is terrific," the 75-year-old from Toledo said. "You don't see this kind of movie out of Hollywood. Where else can you get this type of movie?"

A similar question inspired Tracy Montri, Audiovisual Department manager for Toledo-Lucas County Public Library for nearly 15 years, to launch the program in 2004 when she noticed the declining health of Toledo's art-house cinemas.

"There are many great films out there that need to be seen and the library is the perfect avenue in the community to appreciate it," she said.

Ms. Montri researches the films to showcase -- she screens hundreds of movies each year as part of her job to stock the library's DVD catalog -- and receives permission from the film studios or directors to show their movies or if necessary pays for the rights.

Since Film Focus was launched in 2004, the fall-spring film festivals have averaged an audience between 150 to 200 in a room that seats 275.

As Mr. Reder noted as he looked around at the approximately 150 people in attendance at The Human Resources Manager, "See this crowd? Not bad."

The surprising success of Film Focus -- surprising from a stand point that Toledo proved unable to support a dedicated art-house cinema -- is something Ms. Montri takes pride in.

"I always thought this is something the community would want, and boy has it been a hit, we're proud to say."

And word about the festival is spreading.

Monday's movie marked the first Film Focus outing for Toledo mother and daughter Nancy and Emily Larson, 58 and 24, respectively. And it won't be their last.

"It really is important to keep up with what's going on artistically in other countries," the younger Larson said. "As Americans we tend to think what's going on in our pop culture is all there is, but it's important to know other countries' producing their own stories that are equally valuable.

"It's really nice that something like this is here."

Many of the filmmakers appreciate the Film Focus festival too, as an opportunity to, as Ms. Montri said, "connect an audience to their work.

"We understand there are many voices in the world and many ways to express those voices," she said. "And what a perfect venue to share those voices."

It should also be noted that free parking is available underground at the library each Monday night. For more information, call 419-259-5285 or visit toledolibrary.org.

And speaking of international movies, make sure to check out last year's Oscar-winning foreign film, Iran's A Separation, which opens today at Rave Motion Pictures Levis Commons 12 in Perrysburg. It will be around at least two weeks, but depending on how well it performs at the local box office, its showings may be decreased significantly in its second week. Conversely, if Toledo supports the movie, its run will be extended beyond two weeks, and could even sway Rave to screen other foreign films locally.

As usual, the fate of art is in the public's hands.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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