Film lovers lost a real friend and pioneer with the passing of Linda Dubler on June 18. In terms of film programming, she virtually single-handedly turned Atlanta into the international city it aspires to be. Sick for several years with myelofibrosis, a form of bone marrow cancer, she spent her last days at Hospice Atlanta.
Her memorial service will take place Wednesday, August 3, at 5 p.m. in the Rich Theatre at the Woodruff Arts Center.
As program and festival director of IMAGE Film and Video Center, Dubler fostered appreciation for challenging independent and experimental work. When she subsequently was named curator of media arts at the High Museum of Art in 1985, it was a transitional time for the kind of films that couldn’t find a place on multiplex screens.
The advent of videotape was transforming the local film scene. Atlanta screen impresario George Lefont, to take an example, had to modify his traditional rep-house model of showing Hollywood classics and acclaimed old foreign films. Thanks to Blockbuster, people could now rent those movies and watch them at home. While Lefont instead began screening contemporary independent art films and titles from established foreign directors such as Fellini and Truffaut, Linda Dubler’s movie-loving eye went wide and far — literally around the globe.
Working for a nonprofit organization, Dubler, unlike Lefont and other commercial exhibitors, wasn’t required to book films that could make enough money to keep a venue solvent. On the other hand, she could have played it very safe at the High, booking only Italian movies full of great-looking food or antic French romances heavy on Parisian scenery. That would have made audiences, and her bosses, perfectly happy. But Dubler was genuinely interested in global cinema, in the multiform ways filmmakers were telling stories that were both universal and specific to their cultures. She played to her audience’s intelligence and curiosity rather than coddling it in an easy comfort zone.
At the Woodruff Arts Center’s barely adequate Rich Theatre, she introduced Atlantans to some of the world’s best cinema from directors whose names weren’t yet well known — Pedro Almodóvar, for instance, when he was still the scrappy maker of twisty melodramas such as “Law of Desire,” before “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” brought him international success. Dubler also gave serious attention to over-the-top, high-flying Asian epics long before movies such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “House of Flying Daggers” entered the mainstream.
She booked Iranian films, French films (yes, always an audience favorite) and captivating documentaries. The Latin American Film Festival, which celebrated its 25th year last September, may be Dubler’s greatest legacy. Who knew there was so much fascinating work being made by filmmakers in so many countries to the south? Dubler did, and she shared her discoveries with anyone who would swing by 1280 Peachtree Street to see what she’d found.
I first met Linda in the mid-1980s when I was a staff writer (and lowly typesetter) for the free Atlanta weekly Southline. She was our free-lance film critic. Her reviews came laced with a captivating mix of technical film savvy and worldly sophistication, yet always grounded in a tone of conversational approachability. Often, what she wrote about a movie was more enlightening (and entertaining) than the movie itself. In person, Linda was a simple and elegant dresser, and she spoke in a low, soothing murmur that acted as a kind of soft sheath for her sharp — but never cruel — wit. (I think that, always hoping that a film would surprise and delight her, she felt ambivalent about her time as a critic; she preferred to celebrate, not lacerate, what she’d seen.)
You wanted her to be your friend; you wanted her on your side; and you hoped that a movie you loved (or loathed) was one she felt the same about. When her opinion differed from your own, it was eye-opening to hear her explain why. I didn’t have nearly enough of those conversations, and I feel cheated. So should the rest of Atlanta.
Here’s a no-brainer: The board of the Woodruff center should rename the Rich Theatre in Linda Dubler’s honor. (They should also give this important venue the same sort of physical upgrade the rest of the institution has enjoyed in recent years.) That would be a suitable memorial — but it would be so much better, for Atlanta film lovers, if she were still here among us, leading us like the world’s smartest usher to an aisle seat for a fantastic night at the cinema.