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'Heavy Metal Parking Lot' filmmaker focuses camera on his hometown of Bowie

John McNamara
Rough cut of film will be screened at BCPA on Oct. 26

From the magnificent mullets of his cult classic "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," to more serious fare for the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, filmmaker and Bowie native Jeff Krulik has covered a lot of ground.

Now, Krulik is focusing his camera lens on his own hometown. The effort is tentatively titled, "Tales from Belair and Bowie" and a rough cut of the film will be shown at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 26, with free screenings at 6 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.

"It's a work in progress," said Krulik, whose parents live in the same house in the Buckingham section that he grew up in during the 1960s and '70s. "I'm not sure what it ultimately will be. It's a collection of different stories and interviews I did. I've got some cool things I want to share with people."

He's trying to preserve and re-capture the early days of Levitt-built Bowie. Krulik's family moved in to the instant suburb, which the famed developer built on the former Belair estate, in 1962 - just as the town was beginning to fill up and out.

"Everyone always has some interest in where they came from," he said. "For me, it was always there. But I never really thought of doing a project like this until other people inspired me."

The 40th reunion for the Bowie High School Class of '79 initially got him thinking about such a project, he said. He'd wanted to create a souvenir DVD for his classmates. But when he began searching through the archives at the Belair Mansion, he was stunned to find that the sum total of Levitt-Bowie artifacts was only about two boxes' worth.

"We spend a lot of time here in the (Belair Mansion) museum digging up 18th-century history," said Pam Williams, the city's manager of historic properties. "Ironically, 20th century history is harder to dig up around here than 18th century."

Some have suggested that the dearth of Levitt-era documentation (photos, home movies, etc.) in Bowie is the result of Levitt construction practices. None of those homes had basements – they were all built on slabs - so nobody had any place to store that kind of stuff through the years. That's why so little of it – comparatively – survives today.

Krulik is hoping his film can help fill some of that void.

Part of what drove Krulik was the sense that the life he and so many other Bowie baby boomers knew has slipped away. The city has been built up, many of the folks who first bought homes back in the early 1960s and moved away or – more sadly – passed on.

So Krulik's trying to preserve some sense of what it was like back then. He's conducted a slew of interviews with old-timers who remember when Belair at Bowie (the original name of the 7,200-home development) was fresh and new and still taking shape.

He even managed to locate footage from a 50-year-old German television special called "Suburbia USA" that featured Bowie in all its mid-'60s splendor.

"That was a big score for me," Krulik said. "That was a real big thing to anchor the presentation."

Fortunately for him, collecting scraps from his youth comes naturally. When they tore down the old Buckingham Elementary (where he attended school), Krulik made sure to save a couple of bricks. He credits his family for instilling that penchant for preservation.

"We're hoarders," he said with a laugh. "We save everything. I say that with great appreciation and affection."

He knows that sociologists often turn their noses up at suburban enclaves like Bowie, where all the houses looked the same and there was an unspoken expectation of conformity.

But inside all those houses, people were living their lives, with all the drama – big and small – that went along with that.

"The houses were all the same, but the people inside weren't the same," he said.

The stories gathered from his interviews are a key part of the whole; so is the German footage, which took two years to track down. How it will ultimately fit together remains to be seen.

"There's no way I can tell all the stories," Krulik said. "But I have enough to compile something. It's like a puzzle, putting things together."

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