Arts Remembrance: Homage to David Kleiler

It’s hard to imagine a Boston, even a New England, film-making and film-going scene without David Kleiler here.

There will a wake on Tuesday, April 23 from 6-9 p.m. at the Bell-O’dea Funeral Home at 376 Washington St, Brookline, MA.

The funeral mass will be held Wednesday, April 24, at 11 a.m. at at St. Cecelia’s Church at 18 Belvidere St, Boston, MA 02115.

Another memorial event is also being planned for the near future.

Teacher, showman, nurturer, putter-togetherer, advisor, film maven, and cinema scholar David Kleiler passed away on Monday at the age of 79. For many, he was an indispensable part of Boston’s movie culture — a fount of keen enthusiasm, knowledge, good taste, and know-how. He was a very good friend of this magazine; in a 2016 article we paid homage to his film ‘salon/saloon’ and its dedication to talking about movies seriously.  Below is a gathering of remembrances.

Bill Marx, Editor, The Arts Fuse

Tim Jackson

The late David Kleiler.

David Kleiler was everywhere there was a film event. He seemed to be known and to know almost most everyone in the local film community, and for good reason. I first became aware of him 20 years ago, when he started and programmed the original Underground Film Festival at the Moving Museum in Fort Point. There you were invited to move among dimly lit rooms to catch a program made up of truly ‘underground’ films. “Anything labeled underground has to be in part subversive, in part potentially offensive” Kleiler insisted. “The big thing is to develop audience awareness of alternative stuff.”

When David was Artistic Director of the Coolidge Corner Theatre, he kept the venue alive long enough so that it would later undergo renovations and become the landmark it is today. After that, he became Artistic Director of the Woods Hole Film Festival though 2002. He held degrees in philosophy and Cinema Studies and taught at several colleges. Through his organization Local Sightings, David consulted and supported independent filmmakers. Most recently, he held regular Wednesday night ‘salon” screenings of classic films at his home. Thinking about the movies, arguing and obsessing about cinema, has increasingly given way to the banality of commercial/marketing patter. Kleiler worked hard to keep independent film — and thoughtful, engaged discussion  — alive. He realized that film culture is built out of shared experience. He certainly did his part to spread the word and enliven the conversation.

Betsy Sherman

It’s hard for me to imagine a Boston, even a New England, film-making and film-going scene without David Kleiler here. He really was the glue that held us all together. I first knew him from a screening series he ran in the ‘80s called Rear Window (he was a devoté of and expert on Hitchcock). We shared countless hours in cinemas — and at café-bars talking about movies and more — in the decades since.

David cared so much about the pleasure of the audience. Me, I’m a curmudgeon who’d just as soon sit in front of the big screen by myself, just me and the movie. But he was happiest in a full house (it didn’t matter whether he was the one running the show). He took joy in feeling the vibe of the room, and assessing the moods of the individuals in it. He had his own opinions, for sure, but drew out other people’s thoughts before adding his own.

Even as he was being treated for cancer and wasn’t up to going out to the theaters himself, he wanted every detail about what movies had just opened, what was about to open, and what repertory film series were coming up this spring and summer. To say this is a big loss is an understatement. Good-bye, my friend.

Gerald Peary

RIP, David Kleiler, who famously “saved the Coolidge Corner” in his time as the Artistic Director. I’m not proud to say that I did not always have the patience or appreciation for dear David. On his side, he was always nice to me. He was the only person in Boston who actually called me on the telephone for a conversation. In the last several years, I saw him often at rare screenings of film classics which somehow neither of us had ever seen. What fun for both of us! My last meeting with David I’m happy to say was extremely convivial. We sat next to each other as part of a movie trivia team at the Coolidge Corner. We chatted in the most friendly way, and I marveled at how many obscure answers he got whereas I was lost in the dust. David knew his movies, He also had GREAT movie taste. And he found a way without any money to live on and on in Boston having an artsy, bohemian life. And to have a team of adult groupies and loyalists, who adored David without any reservations. A life lesson for me.

Beth Harrington, fillmmaker

Dave Kleiler was such a formidable presence in Boston when I was becoming a filmmaker. He was unparalleled as a programmer, as a preservationist, as a booster of new talent, as a gadfly. He was funny and insightful and engaged. A couple of years ago he looked me up on a visit to the Pacific Northwest where I live now and we dove right in and talked for hours; he was still ready to listen to the trials and tribulations of one filmmaker and offer advice and encouragement. I learned recently a new film of mine was selected for a festival. I deeply suspect he had a hand in promoting it to the festival jury. I was looking forward to seeing him at the screening. I’m grateful for the passion for and commitment to film that he modeled for all of us. Thanks, Dave.

The late David Kleiler. Photo: David Kleiler Jr.

Nat Segaloff, former Boston film critic now writing books and working in Los Angeles

It’s odd to hear someone you’ve known for half a century touted as the eminence grise of Boston film, the activist who saved a great movie theatre from closing, a nurturer of independent filmmakers, the host of a cinema salon, and a curator of “the bizarre and the insane.” To me, David was just a friend. I still can see him — thin, lanky, pale, his dark red hair flopping over his eyes — sauntering out of the back room of (don’t laugh) Wholesome Film Center in Bay Village, a 16mm rental house, where I had been hired to make a documentary on Charlie Chaplin and he had been engaged to write a study guide about it. It was summer 1969. We instantly bonded, not only because we were the only two academics in the place, but because we discovered that we had both come from the same home town of Silver Spring, Maryland.

The intervening years have seen us through job hirings and firings, divorce, relocations, renown, disgrace, bruised by lost causes, and celebrated for victories. The strangest part of our friendship was that we always figured this was just what we were doing until we discovered what we were really going to be when we grew up.

Losing an old friend is painful, for not only is David gone, so is a window through which I can look back into my own past. I am proud of him, and I hope he was proud of me, and I take comfort that I knew him longer, better, and in different ways than his celebrants now claim for themselves. I knew the dark as well as the light, the bad times as well as the good, and we shared them and remained close. If there is a better definition of friendship, I have never heard it.

Nancy Campbell, IFFBoston Program Director

We are saddened to hear about David’s passing. It definitely marks an end to an era. We will miss seeing him at screenings around town and receiving his advice. And, as we’ve stated before, it really is impossible to discuss film culture in Boston without mentioning David Kleiler’s contribution. His legacy is intrinsically intertwined throughout it. He was an elder statesman. His deep enthusiasm for the form dictated everything he did. He truly lived and breathed cinema. And he had an uncanny ability to recognize burgeoning talent and used his voice to herald new and exciting work to everyone within ear shot. The silence that follows his loss remains palpable.

Brian Tamm (IFFBoston Executive Director) recalled the last time he remembers seeing him. They talked about Madeline’s Madeline. David was over the moon about it. And it struck Brian how current his taste was and how admirable that David was such a pure cinephile and pioneer constantly seeking new voices. It is an inspiration to see how broadminded he remained despite the passing of time. He constantly looked forward.

Ken Bader

Nearly everyone loves movies. But nearly no one goes beyond loving movies to saving them. David Kleiler did both. Of course, he deserves the credit he’s getting for leading the drive to save the Coolidge Corner Theatre, creating the Boston Underground Film Festival, and programming the Woods Hole Film Festival. For me, the quintessential David Kleiler was the man who ran the weekly Salon/Saloon in his living room, where he screened films and prompted discussions, and the friend who seemed more interested in hearing my opinions than in telling me his own far more insightful ones. David rarely discussed the movies that let him down. It was the good ones, especially those made in New England, that floated his boat. We often disagreed about movies but never less than amicably. Come to think of it, I don’t remember David ever getting angry about anything.

David will be missed – by movie makers and buffs, anyone who’s ever enjoyed an evening at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, and, most of all, those friends whose lives were enriched by his erudition and enthusiasm.

David Kleiler — bio on his website

David is a veteran of over 30 years in the independent film industry as an exhibitor, professor, collaborator / producer and consultant through his own organization, Local Sighting, Inc.

David was responsible for saving the art house cinema, the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA; during his tenure as its Director he showcased the best of independent cinema at a time when most of Boston’s movie houses were only booking blockbusters. The Coolidge has become a well-known and well-respected theater for independent and art house films in the Boston-area.

As Founder and former Artistic Director of the Boston Underground Film Festival, begun in 1998 and now in its 15th year, David has been shaking up the sensibilities of independent film fans. David helped program such festivals as Woods Hole, Northampton, New Haven, and Nantucket; his programming at these festivals constantly challenges film goers and exposes audiences to works of merit that have limited or no distribution. He has programmed independent film features and shorts collections at more than 35 locations on the East Coast.

A former tenured professor of Communications at Babson College, he has also taught at Emerson College, U Mass Boston, Tufts University and the Boston Architectural Center.

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  1. Nat Green on April 16, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    David and I spent hours upon hours on the phone talking about film and films, and other things. I had to plan meals and other events around those endless anticipated conversations because I knew there was no such thing as a quick call between us. Our tastes were very similar but there were those rare, strong, arguments—respectful strong arguments.

    My phone has been eerily silent; it wants that call.

  2. Anne Continelli on April 16, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    David Kleiler was so kind and encouraging to me in my career. His praise and encouragement meant a lot, and truly helped me to have the confidence to continue on. I am so grateful for all that he has done, from the saving of the Coolidge to the support of local filmmakers. I have a job that I love today because of him. I have the confidence to continue to pursue independent filmmaking because of him. His legacy and his impact on the greater Boston area, and its film goers and filmmakers will live on. Godspeed, Sir.

  3. Marilyn Bernstein on April 18, 2019 at 1:37 am

    I didn’t know David Kleiler, but I remain eternally grateful to him for saving the Coolidge Corner Cinema. It has made my life considerably better. I saw him at the Harvard Film Archive a couple of times, and I wanted to tell him that, but he was always in conversation with his friends before and after the screenings, and not wanting to interrupt, I never got to tell him. He made life better for so many people he didn’t even know.

  4. Erika Winchester on April 19, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    I met David at a film screening and since I have attended film festivals where he paneled and received many awards. He was a mentor to his friends and an invaluable entrepreneur to the film community. I will miss taking walks with him, spending time with him and viewing films at his Salon/Saloon, sitting in his living room with him. I will miss you, friend.

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