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Since its construction began, in 1935, Greenbelt, Md., has been the nation’s quintessential planned community. About a decade before Buckminster Fuller first marketed mass-produced housing, Franklin D. Roosevelt adviser Rexford Guy Tugwell created Greenbelt as a haven for low-income families. It was the first such federally manufactured community. And, in a move that would prove all too influential, Tugwell included plans in the city for America’s first strip mall.
Roosevelt Center, though, is hardly Mid-Pike Plaza: Art deco prevails instead of neo-warehouse, and, at least initially, there were no plans for any frozen yogurt joints. If you follow the mall’s beautiful ’30s curves, your eyes will land on the freshly restored marquee of the Old Greenbelt Theatre. Jorge Bernardo aims to keep it fresh.
By day, 36-year-old Bernardo toils as a contractor for the Department of Agriculture. On weekends, he spends his time as a film hobbyist, hosting two cable-access shows devoted to the local film scene and making short films himself. That’s how this Arlington resident first met up with the Greenbelt landmark: “I was shooting a film at the Greenbelt Theatre, and I just fell in love with the place,” he says.
When theater owner Paul Sanchez posted a sign in September announcing the impending closure of the commercial film house on Nov. 19, Bernardo got active trying to keep the ailing establishment from going dark. He started attending meetings of the Friends of the Greenbelt Theatre (FOGT), a group trying to save the historic single-screen movie house. Through FOGT, Bernardo learned that with as little as $8,000, Sanchez could keep the theater open through the end of 2000. That window of time, in turn, may just be long enough for the City of Greenbelt to agree to purchase the movie house and hand management and programming responsibilities over to FOGT.
Encouraged by a donation drive begun spontaneously at an Oct. 18 public hearing, Bernardo proposed a “filmathon” to benefit FOGT’s efforts. That’s right, a filmathon. Like participants in a walkathon or bikathon, filmathon volunteers are soliciting pledges of money from friends and colleagues to engage in a specific fundraising activity. There’s one critical difference, Bernardo explains: Instead of seeking sponsors for their long-distance athletic efforts, they’re soliciting “cash to sit through movies.” Ten hours of them. Frankly, there are worse ways to spend the day.
The flicks, to be shown this weekend, are all products of local filmmakers (including one from Washington City Paper Webmeister Dave Nuttycombe) and friends recruited by Bernardo. Subjects range from the life of a jaded bar mitzvah boy to the Alexandria Library sit-in of 1939, and encompass every imaginable genre. Bernardo says, “We’ve got everything.”
As a bonus, you don’t have to be a “filmathoner” to take in a show. For a contribution of $15 per person, or $25 for two, film buffs can come by for as many or as few productions as they can stand. Bernardo is expecting a turnout of between 200 and 350 devoted film and Greenbelt Theatre fans. It probably won’t take even that many to reach FOGT’s $8,000 goal, though.
“We’re at about $7,000 right now,” says the excitable Bernardo. But FOGT could use still more cash, he adds, even if the city decides to help the theater out, as is likely. “[The city] may ask FOGT to match its contribution” if it buys the movie house, notes Bernardo. But the prospect of raising gobs more money isn’t worrying him as he runs down the list of films being offered this weekend. Like a true aficionado, he skips from the dull facts quickly to the good stuff. Mike Kanin
The Friends of the Old Greenbelt Theatre Filmathon runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 11 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 12 at the Old Greenbelt Theatre, 129 Centerway Road, Greenbelt. For more information, call (202)637-9678 or visit www.bernardoproductions.com.