There aren't any paparazzi chasing down celebrities or producers cutting deals over Evian. But with the opening of two film series today in Columbia, the new town might seem like the next Cannes.
One series, still in its infancy, shows only older movies -- a mix of American and foreign films -- while the other, entering its 25th season, primarily exhibits foreign films and documentaries.
"Marvelous Movies & More," premiering at 7:30 tonight at Slayton House in the Village of Wilde Lake, will run monthly through the spring.
The Columbia Film Society, opening at 8:30 p.m. today and tomorrow at the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College, runs monthly through June.
Beginning its second season, "Marvelous Movies & More" has expanded its program from four to nine movies that run the gamut from the intense and horrific to the slapstick and sentimental.
"I felt it's important to show films that would satisfy everyone," said David Pierce, a film and copyright consultant who selected the program. "If we had a Cary Grant festival, only those who were interested in Cary Grant films would come."
Besides being well-made, the movies must meet the criteria of being old and obscure.
The oldest in the series, for example, is "Steamboat Bill Jr.," a silent comedy starring Buster Keaton, that was made in 1928. That movie and most of the others, such as "Eyes Without A Face," "I Know Where I'm Going" and "Yiddle With His Fiddle," are not bound to pop up on video.
"I was looking for movies that don't show up frequently on television or cable or in the video stores," Mr. Pierce said. "They're good, but they aren't common.
"It's a matter of expectation. By choosing less familiar movies, there's a greater chance they will be more entranced by something unexpected. It's important to surprise an audience."
A big attraction of the series is the 30-minute discussion after each movie, moderated by Mr. Pierce over dessert.
"It's a free-form discussion," said Carole Black, program coordinator for Slayton House. "It takes off in opposite directions, depending on the film. They may discuss what was going on in the world when the film took place, what society was like or talk about the director."
Mr. Pierce, who has written for American Film and American Cinematographer magazines and co-produced "The Age of Exploration," a series of eight silent feature films, believes that group viewing and follow-up discussions enhance the movie-going experience.
"It's more than a movie," said the 33-year-old Laurel resident. "Movies in a theater is a communal experience. So afterward, we discuss what everyone else saw. Movies should be a shared experience, just like a comedy is a lot funnier with an audience than it is when you're watching it by yourself. The Buster Keaton film is one of the funniest movies ever made -- [when seen] with a large crowd.
"But there's nothing worse than seeing a great old movie and not be able to tell anyone about it. And this is a series of great movies."
Discussions might also focus on the styles of early American movie making, examining, for example, why actors kissed to the side (so both faces could be seen) or the lighting on Cary #F Grant's face (to keep him from blending into the black and white frames.)
But the talks do not turn into dissertations on the evolution of film. "The purpose is not a film history lecture, but a discussion of how they liked the film, which characters they liked and whether they thought something was believable," Mr. Pierce said.
"We try to get people to talk about movies so they'll watch them more carefully. Everyone sees something different. It gives them a chance to compare what they saw."
Since its first showing, the fledgling program has developed a core following of all ages.
"There seemed to be a real interest and not just in specific films," Mr. Pierce said.
"It's a different movie experience than when you go to a movie in a mall," he said. "Our audience seems to feel more satisfied."
One satisfied customer, Nick Vogel, 70, of Columbia, relishes the experience.
"I haven't missed one," he said. "It's not like a cinema, it's like a party where the host shows a movie."
For the Romanian native who grew up in Austria, Switzerland and France, the movies are a reminder of his youth.
"I'm an old man," he said. "Chances are I've seen them a long time ago. They bring back memories.
"It's interesting to see, not just for their subjects, but for what they represent as a historical document. They tell how people lived then. It shows you the way the world was."
Mr. Vogel finds the discussions equally provocative.
"They couldn't stop me from participating," he said.
For the foreign film aficionado, the Columbia Film Society offers a selection of critically acclaimed foreign films and foreign and American-made documentaries that have been released within the past two years.
The society, which boasts about 700 members, sells tickets by subscription only, for a total of $24.
"If you're a foreign film buff, this is the cheapest game around," said treasurer Helen Ruther of Columbia.
The society began in 1968 to fill a void.
"We wanted to see foreign films and there was no theater in Columbia at all," she said. "It was too far to go to Baltimore. So we did a repertory that year of old films -- film classics -- because they were cheaper."
The group wandered from Bryant Woods Elementary to Wilde Lake High School to Slayton House until they began renting space at Howard Community College in 1980.
Each year, the five-member board selects the program.
"We go through all the reviews," she said.
But they are not movies for the average crowd. "It's for people interested in foreign films and documentaries [that] you have to go far and wide to see," she said. "Obviously, we've been picking them well. They keep coming back."
Zelda Simon, 64, is returning for her 22nd year. "The society began because there was no other place to see a good movie in Columbia; it continued because it became a social institution," she said.
The Columbia resident attends with her husband, Harold, and friends, "and with people I don't know, every year, for the last 22 years."
But the films aren't the only draw for Ms. Simon.
"It's a warm, friendly place," she said. "When it wasn't comfortable, we took pillows. Even if I thought I might not like it, I would come to see it.
"And even when we hated the movies, we came back. We still complain about subtitles being difficult to see, but that's all part of the ambience."
Marvelous Movies & More
"Marvelous Movies & More" will be presented by Slayton House in Columbia at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $4 and includes dessert. Information: 730-3987.
* "The Talk of the Town," starring Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman and Cary Grant, will be shown today.
* The 1959 French "Eyes Without A Face," a moody horror film, will be shown Oct. 1.
* "Love Me Tonight," the 1932 musical starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, will be shown Nov. 19.
* "Yiddle With His Fiddle," a 1936 Polish film starring Molly Picon, will be shown at 4 p.m. Dec. 19.
* "I Know Where I'm Going," filmed in 1945 in Great Britain, will be shown Jan. 14.
* "Steamboat Bill Jr.," a 1928 silent comedy starring Buster Keaton, will be shown Feb. 4.
* The award-winning "Open City," produced in 1945 in Italy, runs on March 18.
* "How Green Was My Valley," produced in 1941 and winner of five Academy awards, will run April 15.
* "Beauty and the Beast," produced in 1946 in France, will run May 22.
Columbia Film Society
The Columbia Film Society will present its program at 8:30 p.m. at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. Subscription only; tickets are $24 for the series. Information: 730-7261.
* "Indochine," the Oscar-winning French film starring Catherine Deneuve, will be shown today and tomorrow.
* "The Oak," Romanian, will be shown Oct. 15 and 16.
* "Stolen Children," Italian, will be shown Nov. 5 and 6.
* "The Story of Qui Ju," from China, will be shown Jan. 14 and 15.
* "Olivier, Olivier," French, will be shown Feb. 11 and 12.
* "Like Water For Chocolate," from Mexico, will be shown March 11 and 12.
* "The Last Days of Chez Nous," from Australia, will be shown April 15 and 16.
* "A Heart in Winter," French, will be shown May 20 and 21.
* "The Piano," from New Zealand and winner of the Golden Palm Award in Cannes, will be shown June 3 and 4.