Lefont gives film revival tradition a modern update

It's back to the future for George Lefont, who is attempting to revive the film revival format he introduced in Atlanta at his Silver Screen in Buckhead way back in 1976.

The advent of VHS tape and cable movie channels long ago killed off most repertory cinemas in the U.S., and inexpensive DVDs and online film streaming by Netflix and other services would seem to ensure that they remain deep-sixed.

Yet Lefont and his former wife, Donna, believing some old ideas can be new again if enough time passes, this weekend are launching the Lefont Film Society, a series of mainly revival screenings at their Lefont Sandy Springs theater.

It kicks off Friday and Saturday with morning showings of the 1945 French classic "Children of Paradise," and the eclectic slate of nine programs continues though the summer. Included are classics, such as "The Big Sleep" and "Cinema Paradiso," documentaries such as "Music from the Big House" and contemporary international fare including "The Women on the 6th Floor."

Despite the clubbish name of the undertaking, there is nothing to join, no membership fees to pay, and anyone can queue up for any of the 10:30 a.m. screenings one chooses (for $8.50 admission).

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Still, Donna Lefont likes the notion of a film society, feeling that, as in those bygone revival house days, many film lovers enjoy the communal experience of seeing great movies with others who share their tastes.

"People have their gadgets, their iPhones and iPads, but being able to socialize is becoming valuable again," Lefont said. "There is something to be said for sitting in a big room with a lot of people in the dark, consumed with a massive image. You can't help but come out feeling more alive."

She and her ex-husband had noticed a tangible sense of a shared communal experience during several years of Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings at Lefont Sandy Springs, but it was Donna who had to convince the veteran showman that the film society screenings could capture that as well.

"Of course, I had to persuade him," she said. "It's George, he's not an easy sell."

Persuaded enough to proceed, George Lefont sounded like he still remains to be sold. "There seems to be a willingness [among movie fans] to come out and see something that you wouldn't otherwise see, something that's not one of the current blockbusters," he said. "Now, time will prove whether this supposition is correct or not."

To make the screenings more eventlike, the Lefonts will sell mimosas as the morning screenings ($6), and they have recruited former TBS/CNN personality Bill Tush and retired Fox Theatre general manager Ed Neiss to introduce the films and to lead post-screening talks in the lobby.

Donna Lefont also has talked with the Flying Biscuit and Breadwinner Cafe and Bakery about supplying breakfast specialties such as pastries, and shrimp and grits if they draw good initial crowds in the 275-seat auditorium, the largest of Lefont Sandy Springs' eight screening rooms.

Strong attendance would also mean that this trial run could become a year-round meeting of cineastes.

"As long as I have support, I will program it," Donna Lefont said. "You know, build it and they will come."

Wait, isn't that a line from a movie?

MOVIES

Lefont Film Society

  • Friday-Saturday: "Children of Paradise"
  • June 15-16: "Cinema Paradiso"
  • June 29-30: "The Big Sleep"
  • July 14: "Music from the Big House," Bruce McDonald's 2010 documentary about the healing power of music. It follows Canadian blues singer Rita Chiarelli as she prepares to perform at Angola Prison, a Louisiana maximum security penitentiary. With a post-screening Q&A and short performance by Chiarelli.
  • July 20-21: "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies," a 2006 spy comedy from "The Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin.
  • July 27-28: "Women on the 6th Floor," a 2010 French social comedy about a staid stockbroker whose life is opened up after he meets some Spanish maids living in his apartment building.
  • Aug. 3-4: "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," Atlanta premiere of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix co-winner, a Turkish police drama.
  • Aug. 17-18: "The Player," Robert Altman's 1992 black comedy about Hollywood.
  • Aug. 31-Sept. 1: "Cabaret"

Screenings at 10:30 a.m. Lefont Sandy Springs, 5920 Roswell Road, Atlanta. $8.50 404-255-0140, www.lefonttheaters.com.

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