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MAY 7–MAY 13

When the Cahiers du Cinema critics began to refer to “auteurs,” they meant directors with personal visions—the kind they themselves would someday be. But there are a few interesting cases of auteurs who were not directors, notably Val Lewton, the Russian-born producer who made 11 remarkable movies between 1942 and 1946. Ironically, Lewton was charged with rescuing RKO Studios from the debts rung up by a more conventionally flamboyant auteur, Orson Welles. He did this with short, low-budget horror features that began with titles chosen through market research. If such B-movies as I Walked With a Zombie (May 7–9 & 13) didn’t always deliver on those titles, they were nonetheless better than just about anyone expected, and have held up remarkably well. Lewton didn’t direct any of these films, though he did work on the scripts, sometimes taking credit as Carlos Keith. The key to the movies’ enduring appeal is the power of suggestion, exemplified by a scene in Lewton’s first feature, Cat People (May 7–13): A woman walks through a darkened city, apparently being tracked by something. Suddenly a large creature rushes into the frame, startling viewers before they can realize that it’s a merely a bus. Lewton’s movies, which include The Leopard Man (May 8 & 11), The Seventh Victim (May 8 & 11), The Ghost Ship (May 8 & 9), and The Body Snatcher (pictured; May 9 & 12), are also notable for their female and African-American characters, who are as solid as the terrors are intangible. The series opens Friday, May 7 (when Val Lewton Jr. will introduce the 7:30 and 9:15 p.m. screenings of Cat People), and runs to Thursday, May 13 (several showings daily; see Showtimes for a full schedule), at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Mark Jenkins)