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Remembering a ‘Tour Guide and Cheerleader’ for Local Film

David Kleiler in an undated photo. Photo/David Young

Anna Feder, director of programming in Visual and Media Arts and curator of the Bright Lights Film Series, remembers her mentor, David Kleiler, who taught classes at Emerson during the 1980s, and died Monday at the age of 79.

An enormous figure in the Boston film scene passed this week.

David Kleiler famously saved the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline from the wrecking ball almost three decades ago, founded the Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF), and taught film studies at several area colleges, including Emerson.

I met him in the early 2000s, just as I had finished my undergraduate degree and was volunteering at the Northampton Independent Film Festival. I was working in a job unrelated to film and trying to figure out my path. David was so friendly, open and encouraging.

When my partner at the time and I made the move to Boston so I could pursue an MFA in film, he invited us into the fold at BUFF. Within a year, he had relinquished the reigns, and running that festival most certainly changed the course of my career. I credit his example of how to build community through cinema for encouraging me to start the Bright Lights series.

I learned from the small gatherings in David’s living room that the discussion could be as important (if not more) than the film itself. I learned that curating could be an act of love. He chose films as a gift to those who braved his chaotic little Brookline condo, and he was in equal measure a tour guide, schmoozer, and cheerleader for locally made films.

I will miss his wit, wisdom, and fantastical stories.

A wake will be held Tuesday, April 23, 6:00-9:00 pm, at Bell-O’Dea Funeral Home, 376 Washington Street, Brookline; followed by a funeral service Wednesday, April 24, 11:00 am, at St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church, 18 Belvidere Street, Boston. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Coolidge Corner Foundation David Kleiler Fund and The Dana Farber Cancer Institute. 

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