Debbie Venezia of Glen Ellyn received a phone call in 1999 that would change her life — and the future of her After Hours Film Society. The call was from Shirley Johnson, co-owner of the Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove, inquiring whether Debbie would be interested in transplanting the society to the larger venue.
The move was a good one, and Venezia calls it a dream come true. The 1,000-seat Tivoli has ample room for the average 440 guests who come to the movies, and enough to accommodate the majority of the society's 1,100 members.
Meeting each second and fourth Monday, the society features foreign and art films, as well as classics. Upcoming films include “Central Park Five,” “Rust and Bone” and “Royal Affair.” One of the organization's highlights is the annual student film festival, which is accepting entries until June. As the society's 25th anniversary approaches, Venezia reflects on how far the group she founded has come.
What made you want to start a film society in the suburbs?
I’ve always loved foreign and art films. In the 1980s, I used to drive down to the Music Box (in Chicago) every Friday or Saturday. I’d be fighting traffic, paying for parking, and it became an all-day excursion. I kept thinking, ‘I can’t be the only one that wants to do this.’ I called my brother one night, and told him about a small Hinsdale theater that showed foreign films occasionally, and asked if he thought the owners would think I was crazy to volunteer to work the movies and sell tickets to save payroll expenses. He said, ‘Why don’t you form a film society?’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ That was the beginning.
Do you pick all the films shown?
I do, but I also take suggestions and recommendations. I read the New York Times, and I watch (to) see what films are opening here or there, and I compile a list. I do rely heavily on word of mouth and other reviews. There have been one or two films I’ve been disappointed with, but the rest is kind of an adventure. I don’t even like to read reviews before I see a film — too much of the plot is revealed and it ruins the experience. You don’t know what will happen an hour from now in your own life, and that’s how I like to look at films.
What makes seeing movies with the society different than just watching one at home?
You may have seen films over and over again on cable or a local network, but when you see it on the big screen, it makes such an impact. The first time I saw 'Wizard of Oz' on the big screen, I noticed details that I couldn’t see when I was just watching it on television, like that the munchkins had tulips on their toes. You’re not really even seeing what the film director intended you to see.
You’re also the executive director of the Naperville Art League. How do you balance the two?
It’s kind of like the Art League is two-thirds of my time and After Hours is one-third. It’s amazing to be able to do something that you really love. I’ve always loved the arts — it’s fully rewarding.
What's your take on the upcoming Oscars?
My vote is 'Silver Linings Playbook.' I love the idea of the Academy — anything that gets people out to the movies is great. When they’re nominated, it makes people want to go see them. I’m in support of all kinds of films — mainstream or my favorite: independent. It’s fabulous.
What: After Hours Film Society brings foreign and art films to the suburbs
Where: Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove
When: 7:30 p.m. the second and fourth Monday of every month except December; $5 for members, $9 for nonmembers
Contact: 630-534-4528, afterhoursfilmsociety.com